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The Facekini and the Underlying Racism in Mainland China

Updated on June 3, 2019
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A silent observer looking around. At times he must protect his identity with avatars and weird sounding names.

There is a recent fashion trend in China, and it’s not pretty.

When we go to the beach, we love to see attractive beauties bathing in the sun be it guys or girls. Sadly, I don’t have the genetics to grow big bulky muscles that will attract attention hence I don’t walk bare chested. I stroll in the sand in light T-shirt and board shorts, and yes, I walk barefooted to feel the sand under my feet.

I really had no qualms about people choosing to cover themselves in the beach, as I never had a beach body myself. But as I scan the dark reaches of the internet, a certain trend in the Chinese Mainland caught my eye. Sure, it could be a false news, as after all this is the internet. There are a lot of jokers out there peddling nothing but lies. I fact checked it and surprise; it is real! And somehow people thought this is a good thing.

Now let me ask you, would you go to the beach looking like a cross between a bank robber, a Mexican Wrestler and a horror serial killer? These Mainland Chinese choose to do so when they don the terrifying fashion trend the “facekini.”

What is the Facekini

A beach goer sporting a facekini.
A beach goer sporting a facekini.

In China, the facekini is called liǎnjīní (脸基尼). It’s a piece of cloth mask designed to cover the whole of the head and neck, leaving only the eyes, the mouth and the tip of the nose “exposed.” This form of accessory, protection, Halloween props or whatever you call it was invented by Zhang Shifan, a former accountant. This mask became popular in Qingdao, where there are beaches to frolic upon. You might be wondering how this stretchy fabric meant to make you scarier became a trend in China? It all comes down to not making you look darker.

Being baked under the hot sun and leaving you redder, then browner is the price we must pay for a day in the beach. I have a fair share of sun burns, but other than that it’s a small price to pay for a relaxing day. I mean we do have sunscreens. And what’s wrong with looking tan than usual. Tan is the coveted skin tone of Westerners.

But in China, getting burn by the hot sun is a big nope.

We will discuss later why tan is out in China. But the facekini mask will protect your face from getting burned under the hot beach sun. And by the way, it comes in many bright colors and sometimes worn with sunglasses, which made the wearer look more terrifying.

Why Even Bother

I would admit that I would wear face protection when going outdoor to hike. This includes a scarf that I pull halfway to my face (just above the nose). I also wear caps, though I don’t like sunglasses. Face covers also protect me against dust we kicked when we hike.

But covering your face when you go to the beach is simply too much. I mean men and women should relax and be free to show off. In other places, getting darker is acceptable. But in Mainland China and in parts of Asia, pale skin is in. It’s an acceptable standard of beauty that sometimes reaches impossible and toxic levels. Pale skin is also a sign of social status, and they want to protect their beauty and social status to some extremes.

Hence Chinese women will cover up when going to the beach, so they won’t turn darker. This includes covering their heads with facekinis.

White Skin as Social Status

A controversial TV ad showing a dark skinned man being transformed into a light skinned guy.
A controversial TV ad showing a dark skinned man being transformed into a light skinned guy.

We will say it again; light skin color is a symbol of social status in China. It is associated with wealth and beauty. When you got pale skin, it means you got the money to not stay under the sun to work in physically demanding jobs. And having light complexion means you could afford those expensive skin whitening products. In the free world, caring for your beauty is your rights, but it sometimes reflects a deeper underlying problem.

Liking fair skin seems to be harmless indeed, but things turn toxic when preferences to paler complexion turns racist. And in mainland China, this is the case.

Racism

19th century woodblock print of a Westerners as animals being executed by Chinese officials.
19th century woodblock print of a Westerners as animals being executed by Chinese officials.

The Chinese people were always a subject of racist stereotypes in the West, and it isn’t pretty. Nevertheless, people in the Communist China seems to be displaying a certain level of racism of their own. As what their preferences for paler skin showed, they tend to discriminate darker skin colors.

Racism stretches back in Imperial China. In the Han Dynasty, a book of divination Jiaoshi Yilin described the women of Wusun ethnic as “ugly, dark skinned with deep eyes sockets.” In fact, they treat these dark-haired people as barbarians and likened them to macaques (though recently it was suggested that the Wusun had Caucasoid features). And then there is the Guangzhou Massacre, were foreign merchants are slaughtered.

Back at present, one will have a hard time flaunting dark skins. There is a saying among Chinese women that “white skin covers up a hundred ugliness.” TV ads reflect this idea where one shows an African man being transformed into a handsome pale skinned guy with a beauty product. There are even reports of people laughing at a photo of Michelle Obama. It might look harmless, until you hear that some WeChat articles suggest that Black people are parasitic.

Where It Leads

Filipino fishermen being harassed by Chinese coastguard in the West Philippines Sea.
Filipino fishermen being harassed by Chinese coastguard in the West Philippines Sea.

A simple gesture of wearing a mask to stay white sounds harmless, but it seems to represent a serious underlying problem. Superiority complex. If white skin represents social status, then what does it means for people with darker skins? Is that means that they are inferior? Nevertheless, it did leads to racism at some point, and a notion that the light skinned Mainland Chinese is better than any nation with dark skin. And sadly, it is mutating into a superiority complex dilemma.

Now, the Communist China believes they are superior than any neighboring Asian countries. So much so that they are convinced that the whole of South China Sea is theirs’. Right now, stability in South China Sea is compromised thanks to this feeling of superiority. The crown it wears as a so-called tiger of Asia caused it to invade and build artificial military islands near someone else’s territory.

Skin color may or may not be the reason behind the bullying tendency of Communist China. But wearing facekini so they will appear superior to their darker skinned peers reflect how China treats its smaller neighbors. With disrespect.

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