Though male makeup actually plays a significant part in China’s long history, today’s digital society has seen a surge of male beauty bloggers promoting and creating a market demand for cosmetics through their online tutorials and reviews. From brush to rush, it’s free reign for all!
As the rigid gender reigns seem to be loosening in China, male makeup is seemingly no longer a taboo. Jumping onto Taobao to order your monthly fix of BB cream or eyebrow pencil is now a regular occurrence for this millennial Chinese generation.
No slap in the face — get it? get it?! — to follow anymore.
Part of Temper Magazine’s upcoming “The Redressed Revolutionary Issue,” tackling all that is artisanal and sustainable in China’s current fashion and urban affairs, it is hereby high time to take it back to where it all began, as Emily Aspinall dives in deep to discover how male make-up in the Middle Kingdom came to be.
A Brief History Of Male Makeup In China
The debate has been heating up lately surrounding the trendy and flawless-looking men plastered across the advertising boards of China — who are now also walking the streets. However, a country with a long history and years’ worth of literature can provide us some insight into contemporary China and the popularisation of male beauty. All those years ago, the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.) saw the first use of white face powder to lighten the skin, as it became popular amongst men… It seems it has always been important to correct one’s complexion. The white skin fascination is very much still prevalent in the East as it was all those years ago.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), the most beautiful version of a man was a delicate, gentle and kind mannered one. In Chinese literature masterpiece “The Dream of Red Chamber” (written towards the end of Qing Dynasty), the lead male character’s eyebrows are described as being the “shape of fine willow leaves” and he always has blushed cheeks. Also, let us not forget the national treasure, the Beijing opera (京剧 orin Chinese), which sees men in full faces of carefully designed makeup, each color, and stroke bearing a deeper meaning. It seems that as a male looking after your skin, taking care in and enhancing your appearance has always been completely “normal.”
Mother Nature’s Very Own
In modern society, our makeup is produced and perfectly formulated in a chemistry lab. Today, the Chinese market runs far and wide in terms of products for every skin tone, texture, and formulae. One thing is for sure, in ancient China they couldn’t find pre-made cosmetics, of course, it came from the soil, aka Mother Nature Herself. In an age of no beauty bloggers or fashion KOLs to aspire to, Chinese people had to use their own terrain to enhance their looks.
In today’s online, digital age, it’s becoming ever more popular for male beauty bloggers to share their skills online. Whether that be in the form of follow-along tutorials, sponsored reviews or blogging.
The Hard Daxue Data Of Hardcore Skincare
We turn to Daxue Consulting for the hard data as the agency in July 2019 reported, “One report released in June of 2018 by Vipshop.com(唯品会) and JD.com(京东) showed that the Chinese skincare market has reached ten-billion-RMB. It is estimated that the total value in male skincare will reach RMB15.4 billion. The data collected on Vipshop.com found that 96% of males purchased cosmetics.
The first group is L’Oreal(欧莱雅), Nivea(妮维雅) and Mentholatum(曼秀雷敦), with a scale of more than 500 million.
The second group army includes Goff(高夫), Biotherm(碧欧泉), Garnier (卡尼尔) and Olay Men(欧莱雅男士).”
China Digital And The Made-Up Men
Take Chinese-born Lan Haoyi (known as Lan Pu Lan online) as a successful example, he is just one of the hundreds of male bloggers blurring the lines between entertainment and advertising. With 1.4 million followers, foreign beauty brands like Aesop are sponsoring for him to use and promote their products in his tutorials, shot at home in his Beijing bed-sit.
Despite the often-nasty comments from those behind the keyboard, the increased online representation means makeup is no longer a “feminine” or even “masculine” thing, it simply just a tool. For everyone to access.
The flawless skin and softly spoken voices of China youth boybands like The TF Boys have perhaps paved the way online vloggers to take male beauty to the next online platform. What’s more, this isn’t just a China trend, K-Pop groups like BTS have popularized male beauty across Asia. Similarly, in Japan, a genderless, androgynous style is popular amongst men, including nail polish and colored contact lenses.
This new culture is all about self-expression. But comes from humble beginnings.
All evidence points to a new era of Chinese male beauty and a redefinition of male beauty standards. Nevertheless, skin whitening, rouging and bronzing has been part of Chinese history for a long while.
Whether it’s today or thousands of years ago, male makeup continues to have its place in the Middle Kingdom and its recent surge in popularity is helping stiff gender attitudes shift.
And gain free reign.
Written by Emily Aspinall for Temper Magazine’s “The Redressed Revolutionary Issue,” 2019. All rights reserved
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon
Featured Image: Actor Chen Kun as photographed by Chen Man for Harper’s Bazaar China, 2019. Copyright belongs to Chen Man, all rights reserved
ALL IMAGES IN THIS FEATURE BODY BELONG TO MODERN WEEKLY CHINA, OCTOBER 2017. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
MODERN WEEKLY CHINA CREDITS
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As a freelance journalist, she specializes in Chinese society and fashion, her fascination surrounding the East grew since living and working in a rural ex-fishing village on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Aspinall aims to capture a sense of the colourful and dynamic contemporary China, which continues to revolutionise and evolve.
Aspinall holds an English Literature degree from Sheffield University. She explored the literary canon, starting with old English and ending with the contemporary period, her area of speciality and research is post-war British social realism. While studying, she also on gained experience at the BBC, local publishing houses and copy edited the student newspaper.
Since moving to China, she has written regularly for Temper Magazine,The Shanghaiist and her personal blog. Her interests include gender fluidity, the modern representation of women, sustainability and the underground scene in China.