Beauty in Ancient China

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Simon Choi
E Asian 351
Professor Huntington
27 September 2010

Luo-fu’s beauty in Mulberries by the Path

China has been home to a multitude of beautiful women throughout the ages. Different periods of Chinese history had their own ideals regarding feminine beauty and differing standards of beauty produced a wide-ranging aesthetic scope. Besides some notable exceptions, however, few women are remembered today in Chinese history. As a result, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what these ancient beauties looked like. Through the poem Mulberries by the Path, we can get a glimpse of Eastern Han’s standards of female beauty. Unlike the modern ideal on female beauty, the ancient Chinese standard on beauty included much more than the physical trait of the female. They say “beauty is only skin deep” but the citizens of ancient Chinese dynasties may disagree. Confucian notions of female beauty on the relationship between inner and outer beauty has influenced the creation of Chinese female beauty ideal. Outer beauty was thought to represent virtuousness, talent, and other inner characteristics. Thus, historically, this influence on Chinese beauty ideals tied outer beauty closely to inner beauty. “罗敷善蚕桑,采桑城南隅。”

“Luo-fu is skilled with silkworms, she picks mulberry leaves south of the wall.” Mulberries by the Path introduces a beautiful young woman by telling us that she is skilled with silkworms. This contrasts sharply with how we describe a beautiful young woman in modern society. In modern society we would begin by describing her facial features, her hair, or the shape of her body since the concept of an inner beauty tied to the outer beauty does not exist. Instead this poem mentions her silkworm skills and her outfit without mentioning anything about her physical features with the exception of her hair. After reading the poem, it becomes very clear that Luo-fu was indeed a very attractive woman in the eyes of her male counterparts at the time this poem was...
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