Wealthy Chinese tourists travel to South Korea for more than a holiday

A recent report in the International New York Times explored the increase in Chinese tourists who are taking vacations to Seoul and undergoing extensive plastic surgery. It seems that for many wealthy Chinese visitors to the Korean capital, no visit is complete without expensive designer handbags and a nip and tuck from a plastic surgery clinic.

In the article, Liu Liping wanted to have her jaw broken and restructured to get a V-shaped face. The doctor removed several millimetres of bone from her chin and cheekbones.

It seems that many Chinese women are so self-conscious about their faces that they are prepared to undergo such drastic operations to get more Western style faces. The traditional image of Chinese beauty is the wide face with large cheekbones, a much rounder face than what is considered beautiful in western countries.

Cosmetic surgery, pervasive in South Korea, is now the must-do activity for many Chinese visitors.

Seizing the opportunity to tap in to the growing demand for plastic surgery, South Korea’s government is promoting the country as a place to shop, eat, stay and perhaps undergo plastic surgery.

Some of the facial modifications undergone by Chinese women are relatively minor, such as double-eyelid surgery. The procedure is so common in South Korea that parents often give it to their children in return for getting good marks in high school exams.

The South Korean government is setting aside as much as $4 million a year to help promote the medical tourism industry, which is dominated by plastic surgeons.

Tour operators sell travel deals that include shopping, sightseeing and plastic surgery.

While prices for plastic surgery vary, a basic double eyelid surgery can cost more than $900.

Popular culture has had an influence. South Korean television shows and movies are wildly successful in China. Patients often bring magazine photos with them to their consultations.

During her trip, Ms Liu planned to see the sights featured in her favourite Korean television show, “My Love from the Star.” She bought clothes like those worn by the show’s female star, Jeon Ji-Hyun.

The popular South Korean actress Jun Ji Hyun is the inspiration for many young Chinese women seeking surgery.
The popular South Korean actress Jun Ji Hyun is the inspiration for many young Chinese women seeking surgery.

South Korea has the highest rate of cosmetic surgery per capita of any country in the world. Seoul Touchup, a government-approved medical agency, states in its marketing materials that “Korean women are arguably more objectified than their male counterparts than any other women in the world.”

Some Korean doctors are starting to voice concern. The demand has spawned unlicensed hospitals, brokers and unqualified doctors, said Dr Cha of the association .

The procedures that many Chinese tourists undergo come with the highest rate of complications. One recent patient booked a series of surgeries – double jaw, facial contour, nose job, double eyelid, liposuction and a fat graft.

One of the most popular procedures is facial contouring, which involves altering the shape of the face by shaving and removing bone from the cheeks, jaw and chin.

Personally, I think that Chinese women who pursue this surgery have gone way overboard. Such cosmetic operations remove the facial distinctiveness that separate a characteristically Chinese face from say, a Korean one. It seems that the Chinese woman in the article see things differently:

“Many of my friends have gone under the knife,” she added. “Since my friends have become more beautiful, I think I should become more beautiful.”

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