DOG DAYS IN BEIJING

by Abellio

27 July 2013

It’s already dog days in Beijing, with the mercury climbing into the high 30s Centigrade. This weather brings out these strange extraterrestrial beings onto the roads

Hot Weather Lands In Nanjing

which on closer inspection turn out to be women riding cycles while wearing special UV-protective sun visors and covering every bit of exposed skin.

sun visor-1

As for the pavements, they host the somewhat odd spectacle of women sheltering below umbrellas under cloudless skies.

chinese women umbrellas-1

The reason is the same in all cases: the desire to protect delicately pale skins from suntan. Chinese women have a fetish for pale skins, not only shunning the sun but also spending large sums on products which claim to whiten their complexion.

skin whitener-2

The purpose, of course, even if these women don’t realize it, is to distinguish themselves from their sisters toiling in the fields under the broiling sun and getting a tough, leathery skin for their pains – the peasants, in a word. Despite communist-era claims to the contrary

propaganda poster-3

every Chinese knows that life as a peasant is not particularly pleasant

rural woman-1

which is why China’s rural people escape to the cities the moment they have half a chance, and why city folk look down on their rural cousins.

We who come from cultures which have been worshipping the sun for at least sixty years and have proclaimed far and wide the beauty of a tanned skin

sun tan lotion ad-1

can titter at this Chinese phobia of a darkened skin, which sometimes really goes to extraordinary lengths

facekini

But we should remember that before this sun-loving period of ours our genteel women also avoided the sun, for much the same reason. I am indebted to the blog “It’s About Time”, in a section devoted to parasols in Western art (from which I also got some of the photos below), for the following quote from Randle Cotgrave’s 1614 Dictionary of the French and English Tongues, where the French word ombrelle is translated “An umbrello; a (fashion of) round and broad fanne, wherewith the Indians (and from them our great ones) preserve themselves from the heat of a scorching sunne; and hence any little shadow, fanne, or thing, wherewith women hide their faces from the sunne.” Like the Chinese women I see on the Beijing streets today, for centuries our great ladies liked to walk outside screened from the sun, as these paintings from different periods attest:

Fragonard:

00 Fragonard with parasol

Copley:

00 Copley with parasol

Goya:

00 Goya with parasol

Manet:

00 Manet with Parasol 1881

Monet:

00 Monet with-a-Parasol

Renoir (I had the luck to see this particular painting at the Met in New York a few months ago):

00 Renoir-2 with-parasol

Seurat:

00 Seurat with parasol

Valloton:

00 Vallotton with parasol

the American painter Mars:

00 Mars-twenties-with parasols

Are we so right to love a tan? Of course, the snobbish element of having a pale complexion is to be abhorred, but I’m not sure tanning is such a wonderful idea either. I must admit to being biased on this topic; I have a fair skin which burns rather than tans and I’ve always disliked being in the sun. But the rise in skin cancer incidences and deaths is vertiginous in many of those countries where people routinely cook themselves on a beach all summer. It is made that much worse by the thinning of the ozone layer, which is allowing in far more harmful UV than used to be the case. Which explains this public health ad from Australia, one of the hardest-hit countries: many people with fair skin, a strong outdoors culture, and located far south where the ozone layer is thinnest.

australian ad-1

The Slip Slop Slap campaign is another attempt by the Australian government to combat skin cancer:

australian ad-3

Looking at that, it seems to me that maybe our Chinese sisters aren’t so wrong in their sun shunning antics after all.

_____________________

woman with sun visor-1: http://s1.djyimg.com/i6/5100409191528.jpg

woman with sun visor-2: http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/123/cache/fashion-shanghai-motorcycle_12361_600x450.jpg

Chinese women under umbrellas: http://blog.chinatraveldepot.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/103-1024×768.jpg

Skin whitener ad: http://gaia.adage.com/images/bin/image/large/Nivea91008b.jpg?1221045176

Propaganda poster: http://chineseposters.net/images/e11-992.jpg

Rural woman: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/13china01-6501.jpg

Sun tan lotion ad: http://file.vintageadbrowser.com/l-2sxa9y5hxoogx7.jpg

Facekini: http://www.ecouterre.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/qingdao-china-sun-protection-mask-facekini-2-537×402.jpg

Fragonard: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2475/4438032996_d685b495fb.jpg

Copley: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-7FFaKUq3lgs/Th6koRKMutI/AAAAAAAArNs/2WRM4y4ZwUs/s640/p%2B1763%2Bc%2BJohn%2BSingleton%2BCopley%2B1738-1815%2BMary%2BTappan%2BMrs%2BBenjamin%2BPickman%2BYale%2B%25282%2529.jpg

Goya: http://www.aparences.net/wp-content/uploads/goya-parasol-vert.jpg

Manet: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_CvDCiEFbNy8/TGlqCaT0tMI/AAAAAAAAWls/cEdFU0kuto4/s1600/p+%C3%89douard+Manet+%281832-1883%29+Woman+with+a+Parasol+1881..jpg

Monet: http://www.chinaoilpaintinggallery.com/oilpainting/Claude-Monet/The-Walk-Woman-with-a-Parasol.jpg

Renoir: http://www.renoirgallery.com/paintings/large/renoir-lise-with-parasol.jpg

Seurat: http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4037/4367819565_d255f31c2d_z.jpg?zz=1

Vallotton: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_CvDCiEFbNy8/TH8YPdMzVyI/AAAAAAAAXno/iOmadhyVbOI/s1600/F%C3%A9lix+Vallotton.+%281865+-+1925%29.+On+the+Beach+Sur+la+plage.+1899..jpg

Mars: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_CvDCiEFbNy8/TJezx5Y-UgI/AAAAAAAAY1g/HY7j9dPmqIg/s1600/Ethel+Mars+%281876+%E2%80%93+1956%29+Nice.jpg

Australian ad-1: http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200812/r320709_1428893.jpg

Australian ad-2: http://lavaleandherworld.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/slip-slop-slap-legenda.jpg?w=600

Advertisements