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The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.

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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

September 19, 2006

Written by C.N.

New Status Symbol in China: Tan Skin

In the past and in many Asian countries, having dark skin was associated with lower status, specifically with peasants having to work outside under the hot sun. Conversely, light skin was associated with being wealthy enough not to have to do manual work. However, as Reuters/Yahoo News reports, this traditional perception is slowly being reversed as China’s elite are increasingly associating tan skin with affluence:

[Old perceptions are] now changing in China, especially in its richest and most sophisticated city of Shanghai, where having a nice tan is increasingly seen not as a sign of peasantry but rather as a status symbol. The recent boom in tanning salons in China is starting to shake deep-rooted traditions about skin tone, though it still seems a long way from denting the multi-million dollar market in skin whitening creams.

Bronze Bodies, a newly opened tanning salon in fashionable central Shanghai, has expanded its VIP membership to about 900 people and is planning to deliver value-added services like how to coordinate hair and clothes with newly tanned skin. “I am making a fashion statement,” owner Li Rui told Reuters. “It’s not merely about tanned skin, but creating a fresh lifestyle choice for Chinese.” . . .

“People can immediately tell how wealthy you are by looking at your golden tanned skin,” said a tanning branch manager who identified herself as Jin. “It looks shiny and healthy, quite different from the dim and coarse skin of day laborers.” The appearance of tanned models on billboards around China and of bronzed actors, such as Hong Kong heart throb Louis Koom, on television and at the movies is also having an impact.

I suppose it was inevitable. As China and other developing countries continue to embrace capitalism and American culture, American norms of physical beauty were bound to come along as well. From a sociological point of view, it’s very interesting to observe how centuries, even millenia of social norms on China about light vs. tan skin is being changed so quickly by American culture.

It just goes to show the unrelenting power of capitalism and status symbols of material success.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "New Status Symbol in China: Tan Skin" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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