The author calls herself a mango, yellow on the outside and yellow on the inside. She makes that statement fully understanding and feeling absolutely complete in knowing exactly who she is. She is Chinese, a descendent of generations of Chinese ancestry. Like a mango, she is the fruit of a strong family tree, nurtured from roots that are anchored deeply in rich Chinese soil. She has been living in the United States for five years. After being bathed in the East Coast sunshine and absorbing the nutrition of the American soil she has observed and analyzed the culture with a dual perspective of both the inside and the outside. She is a transplanted mango. A transplanted mango does not take its culture for granted instead it has great respect for those who came before them. As a mango grows the texture and flavor change. A mango born of its own Chinese culture definitely retains the richness of that culture no matter where it grows.
This is a book on Chinese culture written for the purpose of improving the Sino-American relationship and creating a general understanding of the Chinese perspective. As the author wrote this book she reflected on personal stories that demonstrated the cultural conflicts she experienced as she learned to adapt to life as a transplanted mango. Events that occurred with her family and friends are shared as examples of interpersonal and cultural conflicts. When she uses the word conflict, it is defined as a difference of perspective, opinion or viewpoint. Remember that the essence of this book is to simply create a better understanding of the humanities that come into play when a member of one culture is cross pollinated into another.
The stories in this book range from the unique ethic code of Chinese friendship to the philosophy of Golden Mean, from misunderstood ‘uncivilized’ Chinese habits to the alcohol culture at extravagant Chinese feasts, and from the Confucius definition of ‘gentleman’ to the body language lost in translation. Through the stories, this book explains in an educational and entertaining way how cultural conflicts arise in the area of interpersonal communication and how to solve them.
The book offers you the opportunity to learn about a China that many books don’t talk about and many Americans don’t clearly understand. After reading the book, you will understand more on these questions: Why is the Chinese civilization being the only one to survive of the Four Great Ancient Civilizations? Why are young Chinese people currently thinking China is undergoing a gigantic change for the recent forty years? Has this gigantic change been more prevalent than in the western society over the past four hundred years? Why would the Chinese painter simply put one or two clouds behind the fairy to make her fly instead of adding a pair of wings on her back by the American painter? When you walk into a Chinese antique shop, why will you always find that the most amazing stuff is placed at the innermost corner of the shop? How can you tell the Chinese from the Japanese and the Koreans on the street? This is a book of details on China, instead of concepts!
Beautiful Jade White
On a bright, sunny New York afternoon, I walked in the shade of my umbrella.
An American man glanced at my unfurled umbrella. “Is it raining?” he asked sarcastically, looking confused.
I have been asked the same question several times by be-mused American friends. “The thunderstorm is coming!” I joked back.
It wasn’t a thunderstorm my umbrella was guarding against, it was the sunshine. Living in the United States, it has become my habit to keep an SPF 30 umbrella handy each and every day, all summer long. While my reflective summer umbrella is un-usual here, in China the streets are packed with stylish women holding colorful umbrellas to protect them from the burning summer sun.
My friend John traveled to China in 2007. After his trip to China, John said, “No wonder people say Oriental women are mysterious, they use umbrellas to hide their faces all the time!”
It is commonplace for Chinese women to shield their faces from the sunlight by holding their umbrellas just above their heads. What John had seen on the streets of China were slender figures with what appeared to be umbrella heads. Skin preserva-tion is of such importance that Chinese women often wear big floppy hats and long gauzy white sleeves to protect their skin when riding their bikes.
These same friends, confused as they were by my anti-sun beach behavior, couldn’t understand some of the Chinese televi-sion commercials which aired on the Hunan Satellite Channel.
An example of that would be an incident that happened be-tween myself and my friend John based on an advertisement that featured a shy, awkward young girl with dark skin tone as she is being ignored by her teachers and classmates. Her parents give her a bottle of whitening skin fade cream on her birthday. The girl treasured the cream so much that she held tight to the jar of cream. It was as if she was holding the hope for her future. Every night before she went to bed, she carefully applied the cream to her face and happy changes began to occur in her life. Boys started noticing her and sliding notes into her hand. Girls invited her to attend parties with them. One morning when the girl was walking to school, she noticed that winter had passed. Spring had come and all of the ice had melted. The commercial ends with a dramatic visual, subliminal message. The girl’s at-tention is captured by the sight of a white swan on the lake stretching its wings. As the swan flew off over the lake, soaring high above the trees and fields, the girl watched with eyes twin-kling with amusement.
“Was that commercial trying to tell a story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ by way of a bottle of skin whitening cream?” asked my American friend.
“Yes”, I nodded, “the whitening cream helped the little girl to become a beauty and gain her self-confidence.”
“Is pale skin really that important for the Chinese?” my friend asked.
“Yes,” I repeated to him, “Jade White is how Chinese de-scribe beautiful skin. Jade White skin is milky white and soft, almost transparent. It is the type of skin that others are thought to revere because it gives the appearance of living a luxurious, carefree life devoid of work or worry. Though most Chinese women today work outside their homes every day, Jade White skin is still a valued beauty standard.”
I’d used a description taken from a piece of classic Chinese fiction called A Dream of Red Mansion to describe Jade White skin. My intent was to give my American friend an understand-ing of the Chinese obsession with pure white skin.
“I’ve got it!” John said looking very satisfied with himself. “The grass is always greener on the other side. It’s just a reaction to us Americans liking bronzed skin.”
He was still missing my point completely. “No, that’s not it!” I replied, “The Chinese liked white skin even before they knew there were white people. Unlike Caucasian people who look somewhat pink, the Chinese like the creamy porcelain tone of Jade White skin because they think it is more attractive than the tone of Caucasian skin.”
In my opinion, compared to pale westerners, Chinese people do look better with white skin, but I do admire it in others. Take for instance the story of my dear friend named Judy.
On a recent weekend trip to Virginia Beach, I praised her pale skin while I simultaneously applied a thick layer of sun-screen over my entire body.
She shook her head in protest, “I don’t like my pale skin at all.”
“Are you kidding,” I was shocked, “I would die for fair skin like yours!”
Judy was surprised and stated to me, “Then why are you coming to the beach? It will definitely give you a tan.”
“I am here for fun, not for tan,” I said.
I decided, in fact, with the sun blazing down on the sands, to wait until dusk to venture out again.
Two days on the beach gave Judy a perfect, nut-brown sun-tan. She epitomized one of the hallmarks of beauty in America. My valiant efforts to completely avoid the sun for those same two days had quite the opposite effect, making me the source of amusement among our friends.
There's an old Chinese saying: “White skin can help conceal 100 other defects in your appearance.” Starting from the early days, Chinese people have been seeking for the effective ways to turn the skin to ‘Jade White’. There are two popular ways which have been inherited and remain in use today. The first method is to grind pearl from seashells into powder and apply it to the face or swallow it. The second is to take a bath with water mixed with milk. I am adopting these two ways, for they are safer com-pared to the various whitening products that exceed the safety limits for mercury.
For foreigners who are travelling in China during the Sum-mer months, my advice to you is to pack your tanning oil and spray tan products. It is hard to find them in China. The sun-screen products are by far the more popular and diverse and they usually sold out on a regular basis. Besides sunscreen, you will find all kinds of skin whitening products, from body wash to body lotion. They promise to make your skin white and smooth. You may notice there are even specialized facial creams that have no other purpose but whitening. Hordes of women across Asia are slapping on whitening lotions, serums, correctors and essences to bleach their skin.
In my opinion, Chinese people do look good with white skin, compared to the pale westerners. Why is this so? That used to be my constant question until I got the answer from Chinese medicine.
According to the ancient Chinese medical text, Yellow Em-peror's Inner Canon, white skin with pink cheeks (Chinese people call it ‘peaches and cream’) is a sign of good health, healthy energy flow and blood circulation. Proper flow of energy and blood not only supports organs but also nourishes the mus-cles and skin. Insufficient or blocked internal energy can directly cause dark skin on Asian people.
Many Chinese people offer congratulations on good health when they see someone, by saying ‘qi se hao’, meaning “energy color looks good”. Asian people’s health is more easily reflected on the complexion. In Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, the com-plexion of darkness indicates blocked energy and bad health.
Another possible reason is that when Asian people get older, their complexion darkens. Unlike the westerners, who tend to have dark spots on their aging skin, the Asian complexion grows darker. Keeping fair skin for Chinese people signifies youth.
Besides the reason of health and age, one may wonder if the Chinese obsession with white skin has something to do with ‘wealth’. Of course it does. In the past, the wealthy and the noble of China valued pale skin because it was a sign that a person could stay indoors all day, meaning he or she didn’t have to work for a living. On the contrary, laborers had to work in the fields and their profession gave them no choice but to get a deep tan.
Nowadays, when the average Chinese population can be-come prosperous, ‘Jade White’ skin is still valued today. It is the quickest way to tell a migrant worker who is doing the manual work outdoors from a white collar employee, or to tell a poor citizen who has to walk a long way in the sun to catch public transportation from a rich citizen who has his private car. As long as the poverty gap exists in China, Chinese people will con-tinue to prefer white skin as it’s associated with wealth.
Maybe we do not need to seek so many complicated reasons behind the opposite beauty standard between America and China. Caucasian Americans, who are not so tan, prefer tanned skin because it is something that they find unique among their group. But in China, where people can be easily tanned, fair skin is popular.
As Chinese attitudes towards the United States have changed, white skin is no longer the ultimate symbol of status and wealth. Tan skin plays the same role. Please let me explain, getting tanned may indicate the person has the time and money to go on vacation, and or spend time in nature with exercising or gardening. By being aware of this new trend, some fashion con-scious young Chinese started using tanned skin as the hottest new skin color. One can only imagine with the hottest interna-tional tan they are declaring that they are the ones who are basking in China's new-found wealth.
I used to be a stubborn Chinese girl who always believed that beautiful porcelain skin suited me best. I made a conscious decision I would never allow myself to be in the sun too long for fear of sunburn. My view has changed a bit. Two years ago in Maryland, I was chatting with my friends on a park bench on a rare warm winter day. A little American girl was lying leisurely close to us, on the field of white snow. The golden winter sun-light tenderly shot on her face filled with freckles. She was reveling in the touch of sun, eyes closed. Her blond hair was fly-ing; what caught my eye most were the freckles jumping on her face naughtily and happily. That scene touched my heart in a beautiful way! For the first time in my life, I felt that the freckles were indeed an added attraction to this child. I associated the freckles with health, nature, sun, warmth, youth, and energy.
Others have made the sun connection. Probably due to those associations, trendy Asian models paint the freckles on their faces. Many say freckles are the new ‘craze’ in China. As a Chi-nese girl living in America, I felt directionless when it came to fashion. Should I continue my pursuit for ‘Jade White’ skin as most women do in China, or do I take up the western trend for a rich dark sexy tan, or do I follow the new craze of the vibrant freckles? I was faced with many choices in the area of fashion and skin tones. After careful thinking, I decided to live healthy. I will continue applying a thick layer of sunscreen and holding an umbrella wherever I go in Summer. I am doing this not for ‘Jade White’ skin, but for the simple health of my own skin care and beauty.
When my friend Judy was packing for her China trip, I saw her suspiciously thrust a collapsible umbrella in her suitcase. Amused, I asked her, “Are you following my suit to take um-brella wherever you go in China?”
“Oh, that is for the toilets.” She said, “I was told that not all toilet doors close properly in China. Some don't even close at all. So I can open that umbrella and shield my body. It will save me a lot of embarrassment.”
I laughed aloud. “It can also be used as a weapon when you are wearing your hot pants and platform heels, miniskirts and stilettos!”