Before mainland China debuted celebrities of its own like Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing, Chinese women were represented in Western movies by actresses like Lucy Liu, Bai Ling, and Ming-Na Wen. While all of them are Chinese and successful, mainland Chinese pop culture would make one differentiation: the latter are not beautiful at all.
It may boggle the mind to consider a movie star to be ugly, but then, we accept that different cultures have different beauty standards. For example, what a Chinese person may consider to be “beautiful” may get an opposite reaction from a laowai, the common Chinese term for foreigner.
Chinese people have often wondered: why do foreigners tend to marry Chinese women that are ugly? That’s the question posed by iFeng Beauty writer Xu Xiliang, and her answer is as praiseworthy of Western culture as it is dismissive of it.
Xu criticises Chinese society for not marrying for love, but for superficial reasons, and her proof is that Westerners knowingly marry ugly Chinese women because looks aren’t important to them.
Ouch? Or is there some kind of backhanded compliment in there?
Once we deny the idea that different cultures have different beauty standards, Xu gets down to brass tacks in a stinging critique of Chinese society, blasted for being too focused upon the material world:
When finding their (ideal marriage) partner, many foreigners aren’t like we Chinese in being so fixated on things like appearances, money, or power. Instead, they are looking for something compatible with (the other person’s) inner quality. They want to find a real, authentic soul mate.
Chinese have a strong belief in fate, and even have a special term to describe love that is fated by destiny (缘分, yuanfen). However, Xu says Chinese are incapable of understanding the “Western” concept of finding your “soulmate”. Instead, Chinese will be ridiculed for wanting a partner they share similar qualities with, and get labelled “immature” and “impractical”. Xu tears into the facade of Chinese culture that is trapped into making false choices:
If a man has a wife that is ugly, it is generally accepted that he is a loser. No matter which perspective you have, this is how common people with a material view of the world will think: a successful man should be accompanied by a beautiful woman. And what of ‘souls’? This is irrelevant. Everybody is putting on a show, and what Chinese are feeling inside is not taken into consideration.
And Xu isn’t afraid to confront the institution of marriage tradition in China:
How many beautiful women become brides just to improve the reputation of a man?
So it does not matter that these foreign men may actually find their own wives to be physically attractive — it’s what’s inside that counts. As Xu concluded:
Out of the two choices of being either a “flower vase” to some bigwig with money or an ugly woman brimming with inner quality that becomes the soulmate to a laowai, I believe (it’s the latter) which is the right choice.
It’s simply a shame we apparently can’t have two things at once.