by Yolanda Zhang
“I am going to get my eyes and nose upgraded!”  Bai Yang, an actress of Republican Shanghai. Surgeons would cut and extract the tissue in her eyelids, separate the soft tissues of her nostril and insert a nose implant. In China, constructions on women’s face and body were in high demand, at least for some women if not for all in the 1930s Shanghai.  Many actresses and elites of the time, such as Zhou Xuan and Lin Huiyin, transformed their faces through cosmetic surgery, despite the pain and risk hidden in the violent process. They believed adding an additional layer of eyelid would help them look more “modern” and more attractive with an exotic and cosmopolitan flavor. 
When the first generation of New England-trained American surgeons returned to Shanghai in the 1910s, they brought cosmetic surgery with them. For instance, Dr. Song Ruyao and Dr. Zhang Disheng—who were central figures to this story– both studied at the University of Pennsylvania. In his autobiography, Zhang Disheng recalled his conservation with a fellow on the ship returning Shanghai, “I could have an affluent life in the United States, but I love my country more. I want to bring new skills there. I had an expectation for the forthcoming new China.” Cosmetic surgery, served as a sociotechnical imaginary in Republican Shanghai in a two-fold way fashion: American-trained surgeons, like Zhang Disheng, connected their skills to assertions of patriotic nationalism; and for its female consumers, cosmetic surgery was perceived as a means for them to ‘upgrade’ their bodies and become “modern woman.” 
As China’s largest harbor and treaty port, republican Shanghai was a bustling cosmopolitan metropolis. It featured an abundance of medias: press, “yellow music,” theatre, films, and pictorial publications. Among them, the popularity of “calendar posters,” or Yuefenpai reached its peak around the 1930s.  As a visual genre, most Yuefenpai featuredportraits of beautiful women, sometimes used as advertisements for commodities such as cigarette and medicine. In the 1910s and 1920s, portraiture published on Yuefenpai preferred women with long, thin eyebrows, almond-shape eyes, slim body, and small breasts, as signs of classical beauty. Starting from the early 1930s, posters promoted models with double eyelids, ‘three-dimensional, European-centered facial structure,’ and sexy-orienting impulse. Many portraitures liberated women from domestic confinement by photographing them playing outdoor sports.
“I felt much more confident after the double eyelid and nose surgeries,” said the blockbuster actress Zhou Xuan about her anxiety of being kept out of the threshold of “modernity.” [M]y face became not as flat as before!”
Driven by such anxiety of ‘modernity,’ many Chinese women in Republican Shanghai, like Zhou Xuan, had their faces manually crafted, like reconstructing a landscape. The typical Chinese face with low-angled nose, round contour, and thin and long eyes was gradually perceived as being ‘two-dimensional,’ or in other words, too flat. Classical beauties, like the ones appreciated in traditional paintings and poetry, were no longer fashionable. Women in Republican Shanghai were fascinated with changing their faces to make them look more ‘three-dimensional.’ Concepts of beauty was highly racialized, and the European-centered facial structure was considered as being superior and ‘modern.’ Surgical practices, like nose and double-eyelid surgeries, were at first vehemently denounced by the press, because many believed that it would violate one’s physiognomy by changing facial structure In the early twentieth century, it was still widely believed that one’s face could tell about one’s fortune, health, and personal success.
But later, after the New Cultural Movement was initiated by May Fourth intellectuals, the emancipation of women was translated into the liberation of their body. And then, this new image got worked through the cutting of eyelids, and the inserting of breast and nose implants. Face became a construction site, in which imaginaries of medical science, dreams of modernity, knowledge on feminine aesthetics, as well as the anxiety and eagerness to chase all those things, were all squeezed into the practice of a woman having her facial landscape changed.
On the one hand, cosmetic surgery enabled women to control their own body in pursuit of beauty, especially when standards transformed over time. On the other hand, this desire trapped women in intensive labor as they endured a series of violent and risky operations to embody such sociotechnical imaginaries. Indeed, cosmetic surgery made Republican women feel that they became closer to the modern present and future. What happened when things go wrong in those surgical practices? How would they correct any surgical accidents on face? Making changes on one’s face has always been a highly unpredictable and risky process. It could not be done in any formulated way, but involved tacit knowledge on aesthetic and medical evaluation; judgements needed to be done in speedy operations. Women in Republican Shanghai seemed to have little interest in those questions Cosmetic surgery was a technique, but also a symbolic imaginary; it paints a beautiful future, named after modernity, and invites women to pursue it, forgetting all the risk, pain, and violence involved. The surgeon’s retuned from the United States, like Zhang Disheng and Song Ruyao, not only brought back techniques, but also their faith in this present and future, same as the devoted women in Republican Shanghai.
“Bai Yang and Cosmetic Surgery,” in Pictorial Journal. 1941, vol.15, 20.
Fang Jingwen, “How Does Cosmetic Surgery Become Possible in China,” in Guangxi Folk Studies, Vol.128, No.2, 2-10, 2016.
David Bate, “Looking at Portraits,” in Photography: The Key Concepts, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.
Fei, Qihe. “Zheng Rong Ji,” in Black Cover Book, 1938: vol. 11, 22.
Hua Wen, Buying Beauty: Cosmetic Surgery in China. Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2013.
Laikwan Pang, “Photography, Performance and Female Images,” in The Distorting Mirror: Visual Modernity in China, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2007.
“Medical Plastic Surgery,” in Times Journal, 1937: vol.116, 30-31.
Qian Zhongshu, Qian Zhongshu’s Prose Collection. Zhejiang: Zhejiang Wenyi Press, 1997.
Susan Brownell, “China Reconstructs: Cosmetic Surgery and Nationalism in the Reform Era,” in Asian Medicine and Globalization, edited by Joseph S. Alter, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.
Yang, Nianqun, Remaking “Patients”: The Spatial Politics of Chinese and Western Medicinal Confrontation. Beijing: China’s Renmin University Press, 2006.
Zhang Dishan, “The Development of Cosmetic Surgery in China,” in Chinese Journal of Medical Aesthetics and Cosmology, 2003, vol.4, 197-199.
Zhao Xin and Russel Belk, “Advertising Consumer Culture in 1930s Shanghai: Globalization and Localization in Yuefenpai” in Journal of Advertising, Vol.37, No.2, 45-56, 2008.
“Zhou Xuan did Cosmetic Surgery,” Liangyou Magazine, Vol.3, 1936, 18.
 “Bai Yang and Cosmetic Surgery,” in Pictorial Journal (1941, vol. 15), 20.
 During the 1930s and 1940s, plastic surgeons performed cosmetic surgeries such as skin peeling, blepharoplasty, rhinoplasty, and cheek dimple fulfilment in metropolitan cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and many treaty ports. In the 1930s, Japan invested pioneering experimentations with cosmetic surgery. With the encroachment of Japan and other imperialist powers, Japanese and foreign-trained Chinese surgeons opened businesses and performed aesthetic surgeries. They gained recognition by implementing cosmetic surgeries to Chinese actresses at that time. The appropriation of cosmetic surgeries into Republican China’s social contexts demonstrates that the boundaries crossed over were not only regional, but also political, ideological, and national; the transnational cultural flows and geopolitics surrounding this particular type of surgical technique have repercussions at the level of minute, mundane body practices. Zhang Dishan, “The Development of Cosmetic Surgery in China” (Chinese Journal of Medical Aesthetics and Cosmology, 2003, vol.4), 197-199.
 Historically, the techniques of cosmetic surgery have arisen out of reconstructive surgical practices, which mainly developed as a response to modern warfare, beginning with World War I. The Chinese contemporary equivalence of “cosmetic surgery,” zhengrong/整容, was termed as a vocabulary that encompassed a range of appearance-managing activities, including hair styling, shaving, clinical beauty treatment, as well as cosmetic surgery in the Republican period; hence, I deliberately used the word “cosmetic surgery” instead of “整容” in this Podcast. The character “整” means the repair of malformations (due to combat injury, traumatic wound, and inherent abnormalities). The character “容” provoked some conflicting meanings as the initial development of plastic surgery emphasized correction, but “整容” as a beauty-enhancing activity practiced in mainly in Shanghai, directed attention to form and aesthetics, which departs from its function-oriented, reconstructive medical tradition. The technique invented to repair the wounded bodies of male soldiers were modified to serve the pursuit of beauty by women, when plastic surgery got transmitted to Republican China. The intertwined relationship between cosmetic and reconstructive surgery has always been conflicted, even though the basic principles, like implants and tissue grafting, demonstrate identifiable similarity, and the boundary between them is often unclear: is repairing wounded scar sensitively different from cheek dimple creation, as they were both skin-grafting techniques? The predominant impetus for the development of plastic surgery was to correct the damaging wound done to the bodies by the technique of modern warfare. But the impetus for cosmetic surgery did not simply derive from plastic-surgery techniques, it also required the production for a desire for such techniques. Thus, what was this social impetus? Susan Brownell, “China Reconstructs: Cosmetic Surgery and Nationalism in the Reform Era,” in Asian Medicine and Globalization (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 137.
 Hua Wen, Buying Beauty: Cosmetic Surgery in China (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2013), 31.
The acceptance of the dissection of the body and medicinal surgery performed as a political metaphor in Chinese history. As the “weakened body” was disseminated as a metaphor to describe a feeble nation, as in the expression of “the sick man of East Asia,” re-invigorating the sick body through Western scalpel cut became an “event of modernity” and came to symbolize the cultivation of a modern nation by means of Western science and technology. Yang Nianqun, Remaking “Patients”: The Spatial Politics of Chinese and Western Medicinal Confrontation, (Beijing: China’s Renmin University Press, 2006), 1-20.
 Qian Zhongshu, Qian Zhongshu’s Prose Collection (Zhejiang: Zhejiang Wenyi Press, 1997), 74.
 Dr. Ni Baochun established the first department of plastic surgery in China at the Margaret Williamson and St. Luke’s Hospitals in Shanghai in 1929, after returning with a degree received from Johns Hopkins University. Both Song and Zhang gained fame for performing reconstructive surgery for seriously-wounded soldiers under the sponsorship of Kuomintang government during the Sino-Japanese war. Their focus was on aesthetic surgery before appointed by the Kuomintang government as a specialized reconstructive surgeon. According to my primary-source research, the majority of plastic surgeries consumed in China fell into the category of aesthetic enhancenment.
 Zhang Disheng, Biography of Zhang Disheng (Shanghai: Shanghai Jiaotong University Press, 2006), 97.
 During the 1930s and 1940s, plastic surgeons performed aesthetics surgeries such as skin peeling, blepharoplasty, rhinoplasty, and cheek dimple fulfilment in metropolitan cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and many treaty ports. In the 1930s, Japan invested pioneering experimentations with cosmetic surgery. With the encroachment of Japan and other imperialist powers, Japanese and foreign-trained Chinese surgeons opened businesses and performed aesthetic surgeries. They gained recognition by implementing cosmetic surgeries on few Chinese actress at that time; Zhang Dishan, “The Development of Cosmetic Surgery in China” (Chinese Journal of Medical Aesthetics and Cosmology, 2003, vol.4), 197-199.
 Zhao Xin and Russel Belk, “Advertising Consumer Culture in 1930s Shanghai: Globalization and Localization in Yuefenpai” in Journal of Advertising, Vol.37, No.2, 2008), 45-47.
 Concepts of beauty vary across cultures, and the types of surgeries are sought vary by ethnic and national backgrounds. In terms of eyelid surgery, it is popular among Chinese women but rarely sought by Europeans. This relatively simple procedure of adding a fold to the eyelid transforms stereotypical “single-eyelid” Chinese eye into a “double-eyelid” one, which is considered stereotypically European.
 “Zhou Xuan did Cosmetic Surgery” in Liangyou Magazine, Vol.3, 1936, 18.
 Hua Wen, Buying Beauty: Cosmetic Surgery in China (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2013), 1-20.
 Many press publically discussed plastic surgery on journal publications. In the 1910s, many press, including Shenbao, thought of receiving plastic surgery as a disrespectful act, which could ruin one’s fortune. As articulated by Yang Nianqun, Christine missionaries first introduced anatomy and surgical practices into China in the early nineteenth century, but Chinese elites of the time regarded anatomical medicine as a disrespectable dismemberment of living bodies. The later gradual acceptance ran in tandem with the crisis confronted by the Manchu empire of the superior Western technology and the subsequent self-strengthening movement launched by educated elites in re-appropriating Western technologies. In a word, the acceptance of the dissection of the body and medicinal surgery performed as a political metaphor in Chinese history; it symbolized the cultivation of a modern nation by means of Western science and technology. Yang Nianqun, Remaking “Patients”: The Spatial Politics of Chinese and Western Medicinal Confrontation, (Beijing: China’s Renmin University Press, 2006), 1-20.
 Based on my primary-source research, there were not many journal articles stating the risk of cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery was mostly introduced and described in a promising tone.
 As a kind of bodily practice constituted within definite political and social contexts, these contexts shaped meanings attached to the practices, which were in turn, affected by historical verisimilitude. After the Chinese Communist Party’s defeat of the Kuomintang government, cosmetic surgery was viewed and denounced with exaggerated notions of threat for its association with nations that were perceived as enemies. After the end of Maoism, the technique was glorified as an expression of natural pursuit of beauty, of the personal freedom and individuality that had been repressed during Culture Revolution. As of now, cosmic surgery gradually become a symbol of artificial, superficial, and decadent beauty that its receiver often would not admit one’s treatment history without hesitation, unlike how Bai Yang did in Republican Shanghai.