Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan by Cho Kyo

In anthropology, Asia, culture, Featured, history, society on May 20, 2013 at 19:50

Featured: The Search for the Beautiful Woman in China and Japan: Aesthetics and Power by Cho Kyo (Translated by Kyoko Selden),

Reposted in full with permission from: Japan Focus

An oblique tooth is viewed in the States as requiring straightening, but in Japan it may be thought of as emblematic of a young woman’s charm. While a slim body is a prerequisite for beauty today, plump women were considered beautiful in Tang Dynasty China and Heian period Japan. Starting from around the twelfth century in China, bound feet symbolized the attractiveness of women. But Japan, which received sundry influences from China, never adopted foot-binding. Instead, shaving eyebrows and blackening teeth became markers of feminine beauty. Before modern times, neither Japanese nor Chinese paid much attention to double eyelids, but in the course of the long twentieth century they became a standard for distinguishing beautiful from plain women. Thus, criteria of beauty greatly differ by era and culture, and therein lie many riddles.

Focusing on changing representations of beauty in Chinese and Japanese cultures, Cho Kyo, in The Search for the Beautiful Woman, attempts to clarify such riddles from the angle of comparative cultural history. Before modern times, Japanese culture was profoundly shaped by Chinese culture, and representations of feminine beauty too received continental influences. In considering Japanese representations of feminine beauty, the author examines literary and artistic sources scattered across historical materials and classical literary works.

Are There Universal Criteria for Beauty?

What constitutes a beautiful woman? Intrinsically, criteria vary greatly depending upon peoples and cultures. A woman thought of as a beauty in one culture may be considered plain in another. This is not normally in our consciousness. Rather, images of beauty are thought to be universal across all cultures. Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn gain worldwide fame as beauties, not simply in American eyes but in Asian and African eyes. But on what criteria?

Princess Shokushi from One Hundred Poets by Katsukawa Shunshō, Tokugawa, private collection.

Have universal standards for determining beauty emerged with the global reach of consumer culture and of the media? As products of multinational enterprises transcend national boundaries to spread worldwide, people of different races and nations have come to use the same cosmetics, and people of different skin colors and facial and bodily features have come to don similar fashions. As a result, the fact that different cultures have different standards of beauty was forgotten before we realized it.

In earlier epochs, different cultures shared no common conception of beauty. In ancient times, each culture held a different image of beautiful women. This was naturally so when cultures were widely different, say, between Western Europe and East Asia, but images were not identical even between closely connected cultures.

Both Chinese and Japanese are Mongoloid. Moreover, in pre-modern times China and Japan shared Confucian culture. Despite the fact that cultural ties between the two countries were extremely close, however, images of beauty in Edo Japan (1600-1868) and Qing China (1644-1911) were strikingly different. For example, while bound feet were a condition for female beauty in China, in Japan blackened teeth were considered beautiful.

At present, with the advance of globalization, the same commodities are not only distributed throughout the world but information easily transcends cultural walls. Boundary crossings represented by satellite television, film and the internet have greatly changed values and aesthetics of the non-Western world, but also of the Western world . . . such that the very categories of East and West, and perhaps North and South, are problematized. As American visual culture is being consumed at the global level, the Western sense of beauty inevitably penetrates today’s developing countries. But Chinese and Japanese conceptions of beauty have also, at various times, made their way across the globe through art, literature, film, commodities and communications.

Despite the rapidly advancing standardization of aesthetic sensibility, however, criteria of beauty have not necessarily become uniform. In Sichuan province, a young medical student from the Republic of Mali became acquainted with a Chinese woman. They fell in love and eventually married, the bridegroom staying on in China and becoming a doctor. A People’s Daily reporter who interviewed him asked: “Would you let us know the secret for winning a beauty like your wife?” “We Mali people have a completely different sense of beauty from yours. A person you regard as a beauty isn’t necessarily always beautiful in our eyes,” he said by way of preface before answering the reporter’s question.

The absence of universal standards for physical beauty was recognized early on along with the discovery of “the intercultural.” Ever since Darwin stated that “It is certainly not true that there is in the mind of man any universal standard of beauty with respect to the human body,”1many researchers have made the same point. Claude Lévi-Strauss, who observed the body drawings of the Caduveo tribe in Brazil and described them in Tristes Tropiques, conjectured as to why many men belonging to other tribes came to settle and marry Caduveo women at Nalike: “Perhaps the facial and body paintings explain the attraction; at all events, they strengthen and symbolize it. The delicate and subtle markings, which are as sensitive as the lines of the face, and sometimes accentuate them, sometimes run counter to them, make the women delightfully alluring.”(2) When he wrote this, the aesthetics that greatly differed from Western sense of beauty did not shock his readers. In their daily lives, however, most people still believe that essential physical beauty exists universally.

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Video: The K-Pop Effect

In Asia, documentary, media, music, video, visual arts on April 8, 2013 at 17:35

From: Video: The K-Pop Effect: Plastic Surgery,,


Viral sensation ‘Gangnam style’ sparked imitations worldwide. Yet closer to home, the dream to be like such K-Pop idols is driving young South Koreans to a darker level of imitation: plastic surgery.

“Once people graduate almost all of them get double-eyelid surgery”, explains Gina, who recently left high-school. “In Korea they say, ‘please make my nose into the style of this star’.” In the district that is home to K-Pop’s major entertainment companies there are over 300 plastic surgery clinics on a single street. But some fear this growing beauty obsession is threatening young people’s sense of identity; “they treat their body as a product. They are losing the meaning of who they are”.

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Disclaimer from the website: “Yes it is free and legal. Films are provided by the filmmakers or rights-holders themselves. Or they claim their copyright protected contents on YouTube and monetize it (like National Geographic).”

Reposted with permission from:

Henry Miller on Art, War, and the Future of Mankind by Maria Popova

In art, civilisation, culture, history, literature, society, war, writers on February 4, 2013 at 19:16

From: Henry Miller on Art, War, and the Future of Mankind by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings,

The problem of power, what to do with it, how to use it, who shall wield it or not wield it, will assume proportions heretofore unthinkable. We are moving into the realm of incalculables and imponderables in our everyday life just as for the last few generations we have been accustoming ourselves to this realm through the play of thought. Everything is coming to fruition, and the harvest will be brilliant and terrifying. To those who look upon such predictions as fantastic I have merely to point out, ask them to imagine, what would happen should we ever unlock the secret patents now hidden in the vaults of our unscrupulous exploiters. Once the present crazy system of exploitation crumbles, and it is crumbling hourly, the powers of the imagination, heretofore stifled and fettered, will run riot. The face of the earth can be changed utterly overnight one we have the courage to concretize the dreams of our inventive geniuses. Never was there such a plentitude of inventors as in this age of destruction. And there is one thing to bear in mind about the man of genius — even the inventor — usually he is on the side of humanity, not the devil. It has been the crowning shame of this age to have exploited the man of genius for sinister ends. But such a procedure always acts as a boomerang: ultimately the man of genius always has his revenge.

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Reposted with permission from: Maria Popova


Snow Job by Anastasia Taylor-Lind

In Asia, ethnicity, Europe, media, photography, sexuality, society on November 25, 2012 at 20:39

From: Snow Job by Anastasia Taylor-Lind, The Caravan,

THE BLEMISHLESS SUPERMODELS in the glad-rag mags and the haute runways of the London, Paris, New York and Milan fashion weeks are among the most photographed women in the world. Increasingly, these girls originate in Siberia, that legendarily vast Cold War wasteland associated with the terrifying Stalinist Gulag, which today houses a hyper model-casting industry and training schools for kindergarteners to midteens.

Stalin’s paranoid regime, and those that came after, exiled into northeast Russia entire ethnic groups, the spetsposelentsy (special settlers): Volga Germans (the Russlanddeutsche, invited in the 18th century to immigrate by Catherine the Great), Chechens from the Caucasus, Baltic Latvians, Mongol tribes, Inuit, Tatars, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz….

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan


The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros

In aesthetics, architecture, art, civilisation, culture, education, nature, society on October 7, 2012 at 04:01

From: The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism by Mark Anthony Signorelli and Nikos A. Salingaros, New English Review,

We who live in the Western world at the present time continue to suffer under the reign of a great tyranny — the tyranny of artistic modernism. The modernist aesthetic, which dominates our age, takes a variety of forms in the respective arts — in architecture, a lack of scale and ornamentation combined with the overwhelming deployment of materials like glass, steel, and brutalist concrete; in the plastic arts, a rejection of natural forms mixed with an unmistakable tendency towards the repulsive or meretricious; in literature, non-linear narrative, esoteric imagery, and an almost perfect lack of poetic form and diction. Yet common now to the practice of all these arts are certain primal impulses which may be said to form the core of the modernist aesthetic — a hostility and defiance towards all traditional standards of excellence, discovered over millennia of craftsmanship and reflection; a notion of the artist’s freedom as absolute, and entirely divorced from the ends of his art; and, as Roger Scruton has so clearly demonstrated, a refusal to apply the category of beauty to either the creation or the estimation of artwork. Standing behind this aesthetic is an ideology supported by nearly the entire institutional structure of the Western world — the universities, the publishing houses, the galleries, the journals, the prize committees, the zoning boards. Books that evince a fidelity to modernist principles are the ones that get published. Buildings that conform to the brutal codes of modernism and its derivatives are the ones that get built. Whatever creative efforts spring from other sources of inspiration other than modernist aggression are invariably ignored and dismissed as something antiquated or reactionary. This is the great totalitarian system of our times — the dictatorship of modernism.

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Reposted with permission from: New English Review

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