COSMETIC SURGERY IN CHINA
Cosmetic surgery is a $2.5 billion a year industry in China, and it is growing at a pace of 20 percent a year according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Cosmetic surgery clinics with names like Dreaming Girl's Fantasy are popping up all over the place. By one count over 10,000 medical facilities offer cosmetic surgery. The No. 9 People’s Hospital in Shanghai performed 25,000 cosmetic operations in 2003, a 25 percent increase from the year before.
By some estimates about 3 million cosmetic surgery operations are performed every year in China. This is an extraordinary leap from virtually no cosmetic surgery in the 1980s. At the No. 9 People’s Hospital in Shanghai, a double fold operation cost around $360. Breasts implants cost around $2,500. Facelifts and liposuction are also done. A woman who undergoes a Chinese version of an extreme makeover has her jaw slimed, eyes and nose sculpted and her breasts enlarged and lifted.
During the 30-minute double slit surgery, doctors cut, fold and sew the upper eyelids with what looks like a fishhook, to create a crease above the eyelids. One woman who had the operation said, “Bigger eyes make you look more awake, more beautiful.”
Double slit operations aim to make the eyes pop out and look rounder and more Caucasian. Many have said this look as well as high noses and model pouts don’t look right on Asian women. These days there is more of an emphasis on enhancing and refining Asian features rather than creating Caucasian ones. Popular procedures at cosmetic surgery clinics in mid 2000s included reducing eyes bags, sculpting noses and shaving the jawbones to produce a softer face. Double slit operations are more subtle, designed to create larger eyes not ones that look Caucasian.
Customers at the Shanghai hospital flip through pictures of noses, cheeks and breasts and show doctors assistants what they want. The assistants then use plastic models to illustrate what has to be cut, sucked, altered or filled in.
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China's Plastic Surgery Boom
About 3 million people in China had plastic surgery in 2009, according to an official estimate. China ranks third in the world behind the United States and Brazil for the number of plastic surgeries performed, according to industry officials. But one expert in Shanghai told the Washington Post the 3 million figure "conservative." Li Qingfeng, a plastic surgeon who is also deputy secretary of the Chinese Association of Plastics and Aesthetics, said his hospital alone receives about 100,000 patients each year, and all of Shanghai could receive as many as 300,000 yearly. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 23, 2010]
Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, “Plastic surgery was extremely rare in China before the country's economic reforms of the 1980s. Xu Shirong, a senior plastic surgeon at Beijing Hospital, said that until that point, people were allowed to have plastic surgery only to correct physical deformities.” "Doctors dared not to perform such operations on their patients because plastic surgery was considered a bourgeois way of life," Xu said. "Although I studied it, I only gave operations for harelip patients. After the opening and reform, the tide of pursuing beauty rose gradually." [Ibid]
Xu told the Washington Post he sees about 20 patients each day, about half of whom elect to have plastic surgery. Most are women in their 20s, he said, and the most popular procedures are eyelid slicing - to make Western-style double-lidded eyes - followed by nose jobs and tummy tucks. "I feel people have a higher standard of beauty right now," Xu said. "I tell many of my patients they score 98 already, and that's good enough, with no need to pursue a perfect 100. But most of my patients still choose to add those two missing points." [Ibid]
Reasons for Getting Cosmetic Surgery in China
In the 1990s, many women wanted features that made them look more Western: wide eyes, full lips, large breasts and long legs. These days many young women try to look like their favorite Hong Kong, Taiwan or Chinese movies stars or pop singers.
Many young women get plastic surgery for economic reasons. One woman told the China Daily, “I’m a salesgirl in a department store. The better I look the more I sell.” Another woman told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m not looking for a sugar daddy, but I hear good looks may boost your salary by 30 percent.”
As to the claim that Chinese are having the double slit operation to look more Western, one woman told the China Daily, “I am not trying to look like some American celebrity I am just trying to look like a better version of myself."
“To us doctors, altering beauty is a very natural thing,” a medical professor told the Los Angeles Times, “When you do sports, you alter your muscles. We do the same thing through surgery.”
People with Cosmetic Surgery in China
Before When the Beijing Plastic Surgery Hospital began offering cosmetic surgery in the early 1990s, nearly all the patients were actresses or entertainers. Now it estimates they make up a third of their clients. Bar hostess, concubines and mistresses make up one tenth. One fifth to one third are people hoping that an improved appearance will help them land a good job. One fifth seek fat reduction. About 90 percent are women and a third are people between 30 and 40.
Nationwide most of those having cosmetic surgery fell into two groups: women in their 20s hoping to give their careers a lift, and women in their 40s who want to look younger. Mothers sometimes bring their daughters in to have surgery to improve their chances of getting a good job or landing a good husband. Enhanced breasts have become a status symbol not just for the breasts themselves but also for the fact that one has the money to pay for the procedure.
After The journalist Hao Lulu became a national celebrity after she had $50,000 of work done for free by a private hospital in exchange for a write up in her magazine. Dozens of changes were made in 16 operations. Her breasts were enlarged. Bags were removed from under her eyes and wrinkles were removed from her neck. Fat was cut out from her thighs, upper legs buttocks and cheeks. The bridge of her nose reshaped. Botox was applied to her skin. After all the work was done she landed a job on the popular Taiwanese drama Meteor Garden. Afterwards she was dubbed the “Artificial Beauty.”
Beijing hosted a Miss Plastic Surgery beauty contest in the mid 2000s. There were 30 contestants. The promoters for the contest, a group called Beijing Culture, got the idea for the contest after a woman who was initially accepted into the Miss Intercontinental Beauty Pageant was disqualified when it was discovered that she had undergone 11 cosmetic surgeries. The contest was like other beauty contests in that it had swimsuit, evening gown, talent and personality sections. Contestants had to show a certificate that they had their work done at a recognized cosmetic surgery hospital.
170 Plastic Surgery Operations
Reporting from Shanghai, Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post,“Wang Baobao got her first taste of plastic surgery when she was 16. A nip and a tuck led to another nip and another tuck, another after that, and another, and another. There were the follow-up surgeries, and the repairs for the procedures that were botched the first time, and the second time, and the third time.”[Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 23, 2010]
“Wang, now 28, estimates that she has had 170 to 180 operations, usually six or seven at a time, and on ‘nearly every part of my body.’ She had her eyes widened. She had her nose and jaw made narrower, and her chin shaped smaller. Her breasts were enhanced, but "I had to keep having operations to repair them." She had the fat taken out of her hips, thighs, stomach and backside. She even had implants put into the heels of her feet to try to make her taller; it didn't work.” [Ibid]
“ It was the pursuit of perfection that led Wang Baobao down her never-ending path of surgeries. She was an aspiring dancer in China's hardscrabble northeastern Heilongjiang province when she decided to have work done on her eyes. "I wanted to make my eyes more beautiful," she recalled. "But the technology wasn't good enough. Their skills weren't good enough. I kept needing repair operations." [Ibid]
“Despite the bad experience, she decided to have her breasts enlarged. But the doctor used polyacrylamide hydrogel, which two years ago was banned for breast implants in China when it was found to cause infection and deformation. Eventually, she said, her friends and neighbors no longer recognized her. Her colleagues at a Shanghai stock brokerage firm laughed behind her back, so she quit and began freelance stock trading from home. Two years ago, her boyfriend became frightened and left.” [Ibid]
Wang runs a Web site about the promise, and perils, of plastic surgery. She told the Washington Post she regrets ever having that first operation. After spending more than $600,000, she said: "The effects are not that good. And all over my body, there are too many scars." She also offers advice for young people considering enhancing their appearance. "Don't get any plastic surgery," she said. "This is a no-end track. You can never turn back." [Ibid]
Male Cosmetic Surgery in China
A large number of men are getting breast implants to make them look like they have big muscles. The procedure is similar to the one for women except the implants are different shaped and harder. Small cuts are made under the armpits; silicone gel implants are inserted; and stitches are removed after about a week. The cost of the procedure is around $1,200 at Shanghai No. 9 People’s Hospital. Most of those who have had the operation said they had it because they thought a more “brawny” chest would help attract a partner or impress a client or boss.
A doctors who performs the male implant surgery told the Times of London, “To be frank, the surgery is unnecessary. Physical exercise can create the same effect and it is safer. These people actually have psychological problems and attribute the unhappiness in their lives to their weak muscles. The surgery in some instances serves as psychological therapy.”
A Nanjing man showed up at a hospital and asked to have plastic surgery done on his ears so he could look like an alien. One clinic has a special album called “Deep Emotion” that shows before and after shots of male breast jobs.
Cosmetic Surgery and the Media in China
jaw work, before Lovely Cinderella is a Chinese version of Fox TV’s The Swan. Produced in Hunan Province, it shows patient enduring extreme makeovers. Some of the footage is quite graphic: showing fat being sucked out, scalpels carving up a face and the face swollen during the post-operation recovery. In one episode a women is shown moaning to her husband for more anesthesia while on the operating table and throwing up in her hospital room because she misses her five-year-old son. [Source: AP]
In July 2006, China imposed on ban on television and radio advertising for products that promised breast enhancement, weight loss or increased height. The Beijing news service reported: “Recently some medical organizations have exaggerated the results of treatment provided using experts and previous patients on television commercials to mislead others."
Problems with Chinese Plastic Surgery
after Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post that many feel China's new and growing obsession with plastic surgeryhas gone badly awry, as more and more unlicensed, unskilled and unscrupulous practitioners jump into an increasingly lucrative, yet largely unregulated industry. While government-run hospitals adhere to stricter standards with more experienced doctors, the same can't be said of these "black hospitals" and other private facilities, several experts said. "Those private ones make operations secretly, some of the surgeons lack ethics and their only aim is making money," said Zhou Xiaolin, retired chief surgeon of Beijing's Plastic Surgery Hospital. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 23, 2010]
"Most of the people don't have surgery at officially regulated hospitals," with many patients going to beauty salons or other unregulated facilities - "and the number is huge," Li told the Washington Post. The problems were highlighted last month when a promising 24-year-old singer, Wang Bei, died in an operating room in China's central Hubei province while having a facelift. [Ibid]
Botched Cosmetic Surgery in China
There are a number of fly-by-night operators, known as “firemen,” that offer cheap cosmetic surgery but are known for doing shoddy work and often operate illegally out of beauty salons. Nearly a quarter million people have complained to authorities about botched surgery, most of it done by unlicensed or poorly trained firemen.
One woman who had a number of procedure to correct a botched operation to get rid of her sagging eyelids told the China Daily, “The first time I had it done at a private home by a local practitioner. One eye ended up bigger than the other. The second time I had it done at a salon. The stitches got infected. This time I went to the hospital and it looks good”.
The China Daily reported that there have been more than 200,000 botched operations between 1993 and 2003 and described the double list operation as the “most popular—and the most dangerous—cosmetic procedure.” Poorly-done eyelid surgery can result in nerve damage, punctures in the eyelid or even blindness.
Plastic surgery has also produced some unique ruling in courts of law. One man divorced his wife and received a $120,000 settlement for “lost opportunities” after his wife gave birth to an “amazingly ugly” baby and it was revealed the wife had hidden her own ugliness with cosmetic surgery.
Height Surgery in China
butt work, before To increase their height some Chinese undergo painful leg extension surgery that can increase their height by nine centimeters but leave them unable to walk for more than six months and cause them to endure a great amount of pain while the procedure is being done. Most of those paying the $6,000 to $10,000 to have the procedure are women.
Using a technique called the Ilizard procedure—named after its inventor, a Russian doctor, who developed the tecnique to help people suffering from dwarfism and uneven limbs—a person’s shinbones are cut in two and attached to a an erector-set-like metal brace with metal pins. The bones are pulled apart about one millimeter everyday with knobs attached to the metal pins, allowing new bone to grow in a gap, thereby lengthening the bone and making a person taller.
after The procedure is risky. There have been a number cases of deformities and infections. If the bones are separated too quickly the bone will become too weak and will not be able to bear a person’s weight. It also possible for the limbs to grow to different lengths and the shins to warp, deforming knee and ankle joints. Nerve damage is also common. Some people end up permanently crippled. In November 2006, the Health Ministry banned the procedure except for medical reasons.
Some people have had implants put into their heels to make them taller. Five-foot-five Wang Baobao, the 28-year-old woman who had 170 plastic surgery operations, told the Washington Post that her doctor promised she would be a few extra inches taller after such a procedure and she would recover in a week. She paid about $7,500 and was left on crutches for nearly six months with large scars on her feet. And she didn't get any taller. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, December 23, 2010]
Another patient, Fung Jian, 28, had heel implant surgery after learning about it on Wang's blog. At 4 feet 9 inches, Fung said he had always felt "tortured" by his height. And like Wang, he too paid for the surgery but did not get noticeably taller. Wang and Fung have hired a lawyer and, with a third patient, are trying to take legal action against the doctor. The doctor, when contacted, said that he never makes absolute promises to his patients and that, on average, they get "a little bit taller." [Ibid]
Botched Breast Implants in China
In April 2006, the government banned a breast-enlarging liquid called Ao Mei Ding—or Amazing Gel—that was injected into 300,000 women over a nine year period and caused some severe problems, including severe pain and breast removal.
One victim interviewed by the Times of London paid $1,062 for the injection of 300 ml of Amazing Gel at a Beijing beauty salon in 2003. The gel formed hard lumps in her breasts that caused infection and migrated around her body . In 2005 she paid doctors at Beijing Union Hospital $1,305 to remove the lumps. “The gel had solidified and stuck to my breasts.“ she said. “The doctor had to scrape it out with a spoon. It was white when it was injected and blue-black when they took it out." Doctors told the woman they would never be able to get all of the hardened gel and recommended a body scan to find the thickest concentrations.
Amazing Gel has also been used on face lifts, penis enlargements and operations to narrow the vagina. It originally was imported from Ukraine but when Ukraine suppliers discovered how the gel was being used they halted shipment in the late 1990s. Chinese marketers of Amazing Gel developed their own formula, which was approved after only seven months by officials at the State Food and Drug Supervision Administration, rather than the usual two years, and was done without animal experiments.
Many wonder how Ao Mei Ding—made with a chemical call acrylamide hydrogel—could have been approved to begin with and how people who were not even doctors were allowed to inject it. There are allegations that officials at the State Food and Drug Supervision Administration took bribes.
One Dead, Three Hospitalized after Receiving Hong Kong Cancer "Beauty" Treatment
In October 2012, CBS News reported: “One Hong Kong woman is dead and three more have been hospitalized after they received a "beauty" treatment that is usually reserved for cancer patients. A 60-year-old remains in critical condition, a 56-year-old woman is in serious condition, and a 59-year-old woman is stable, CNN reports. CNN reported that it has not been confirmed whether the deceased 46-year-old woman or any of the victims had been diagnosed with cancer, but the Hong Kong Health Department said in a previous statement that they had been in "good past health." [Source: Michelle Castillo, CBS News, October 10, 2012]
The four women had underwent a DC-CIK intravenous treatment, which was billed as a "platelet rich plasma," at a DR Medical Beauty Group location on Wednesday, China Daily reported. They were taken to the hospital after complaining of deep headaches and diarrhea. [Ibid] It was later determined that they were diagnosed with septic shock, a life-threatening blood infection that causes extremely low blood pressure according to the National Institutes of Health. Their blood samples contained the bacterium Mycobacterium abscessus. While it is normally found in water, soil and dust, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report it often contaminates medications and medical products and can cause serious infections. [Ibid]
DC-CIK (cytokine-induced killer cells) is a form of plasma therapy used in metastatic cancer, the Independent reported. The blood transfusion, which the women each paid about $6,450 for, is known to help improve the survival rate of cancer patients after chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. However, the clinic billed the procedure as a way to get rid of wrinkles and revitalize the skin. The company claimed that "growth factors" could be released from the platelets through a laboratory procedure. Patients who underwent the therapy had their blood removed, treated and reinjected into them. "This treatment involves concentration and processing of blood taken from the person, which is subsequently infused back to the patient. According to investigation, the treatment was provided by a registered medical practitioner," a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Health Department said to China Daily. [Ibid]
The DR Group confirmed in a statement to China Daily that the treatment was conducted by certified doctors at an independent clinic affiliated with their organization, and that the women's medical history was checked before they had their blood transfused. They insisted that their version was a beauty treatment, not a medical procedure. Thirty-one out of the 45 patients who underwent the procedure at a DR Group location have been notified. Authorities are urging people who may have undergone something similar to see a doctor if they experience symptoms. [Ibid]
The DR Group also offers a stem cell treatment created from a person's fat tissues that is also injected back into the host. Dermatologist Chung King-lueh told China Daily that these procedures should only be done in a hospital. "No one would do it in a clinic because we know it risks blood contamination by bacteria," Chung said. [Ibid]
Hong Kong's Health Minister, Dr. Ko Wing-man, told the Independent that harsher regulations may need to be put in place. As of now, the Hong Kong's Health Ministry does not have the authority to regulate beauty salons. "I do not rule out the possibility of the need for legislation, or an amendment to the current law to pin down those high-risk medical therapies," he stated. The Regional Crime Unit of Hong Kong Island and the Hong Kong Health Department are investigating both the treatment centers and a laboratory in Tai Po which was supposed to have prepped the patient's blood for the procedure, China Daily reported.
Image Sources: Xorsyst blog, China Cosmetic surgery
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012