White beauty: the origin of an ideology in China


One day in China I was with a Chinese friend and I noticed a pretty girl. He immediately replied, “Are you kidding? She is ugly because her skin’s so dark. You foreigners really have a very strange taste”.

Indeed for many Chinese whiten themselves to be beautiful. The more a woman’s skin is white, the more beautiful she is.

This doesn’t really apply to men. In China, male beauty is less important compared to wealth.

I will in this article pictures the historical background of the Chinese equation: white = beautiful

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China Cosmetics Key Concern: Whitening


1) Being white to distinguish yourself from a person of a peasant social origin


Noble or landowner does not work under the sun. Her skin is protected from the sun and is white. In China, the Cultural Revolution did not change it, thus no Chinese wants a tanned skin of peasant.


2) A eugenist ideology brought by Western countries


Human Races


In the 19th century, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant develops a racial ideology in his book “Of the Different Human Races”. For Kant mankind can be divided into three different races. The white race which is made for dominating the world. The yellow which has reached a relative degree of civilization but is immobilized. The Black race which is floundering.

It is striking to see in China how the Chinese kept such prejudices against white or black. For many of them, Whites are often seen as educated and clean whereas Blacks are seen as dirty, violent and with low IQ.

For the Chinese, the color of skin is therefore not only a question of beauty but also a racist ideology? We could sadly think so…




3) The skin is very important for Chinese


Chinese are very careful about their skin. The softness of the skin is important for them. And white skin is usually considered softer and containing more hydra. It is also important not to have wrinkles.

This ideology of beauty is so influential that the Chinese are willing to sacrifice considerably to keep their skin as white as possible. For instance, the Chinese will try to protect their skin from the sun at all costs.


4) How to adapt Marketing solution to the ideology?

Chinese abuse of whitening creams and cosmetics:

Large companies have realized this and have insisted heavily on communicating whitening as the ideal of beauty. Most models used for cosmetics‘ advertising are European, especially Nordics. Very few are Asians. This phenomenon also exists in perfume.

Here is a good analysis by Mark Tungate a British journalist, columnist for the magazine Strategies, who is the author of Best Seller “The World of Beauty”. He describes in this interview the new trends in communication for brands of beauty and luxury especially since the development of the social web. Then he tries to answer the following question: how brands should integrate their understanding of cultural differences of Asian countries in their communication?

An interesting phenomenon is that many dark-skin women as Chinese women use whitening products. They also want to have a clearer skin. Does it seems that the ideal of beauty is equally rooted in African countries? Is there a universal ideal of beauty? Or is a symptom of cultural domination and alienation? What do you think?