What’s China’s ‘mixed-race’ magnificence pattern?

While Chinese beauty movements such as “Douyin makeup,” “manhua eyelashes,” as well as the “Asian baby girl” trend continue to make waves across TikTok and other global social media, a newer, more controversial look is also on the rise.

In recent years, “mixed-race” beauty has evolved into its own buzzword on Xiaohongshu, Douyin and other Chinese social platforms.

Characterized by strong facial contouring (highlighting the nose bridge, and diminishing the jawline), pale skin, and blue, green, hazel or light brown color contact lenses, China’s “mixed race” beauty trend reflects the country’s complex cultural influences and changing standards of beauty in post-colonial Asia.

“Actually, real Asians generally don’t look like this,” wrote netizen Santiao (@三条) on Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu.

To which another user, Yueqingruzhou (月清如昼), replied: “Asian makeup was popularized by girls with this kind of style, so this type of makeup is called Asian makeup.”

Other users felt the trend was just a trend. “[Mixed-race beauty] is just a name, don’t take it too seriously,” one netizen posted.

Image: Douyin
Image: Douyin

Yaling Jiang, a Shanghai-based cultural analyst and founder of the e-newsletter Following the Yuan, explains that this fascination with mixed race beauty standards is not new.

“The ‘mixed race’ beauty standards have always been present in [modern] China,” she says, referencing the oftentimes Eurocentric norms influencing today’s aesthetics. “But the difference in a digital era is that social media users can actively learn how to achieve this look by adding representative features like colored contacts, adding freckles, and such.”

While Eurocentric beauty standards have impacted aesthetic trends around the world, some experts believe East Asia’s extreme beauty standards, known for an emphasis on flawless skin and defined features, have significantly influenced China’s beauty trends.

Social media also plays a significant role in seeding this trend, through tutorials and inspiration for users.

On Xiaohongshu (XHS), the hashtag “mixed-race makeup” (#混血妆) has amassed 190 million views, while “mixed-race Asian makeup” (#混血亚裔妆) has 3.82 million views. Similarly, on Douyin, the hashtag “mixed-race makeup (#混血妆) has 1.37 billion plays, and “Asian makeup” (#亚裔妆容) has 1.15 billion plays. These staggering numbers underscore the trend’s widespread popularity.

Tristan McInnis, a managing partner at China-based studio Inner Chapter, sees this trend as part of a broader cultural hybridization. “The trend towards ‘mixed-race’ beauty reflects a desire for a naturally exotic look blending Eastern and Western aesthetics,” he says. “It’s driven by cultural hybridization, social media influence, and the pursuit of a travel-inspired lifestyle, along with the ‘hot girl’ (辣妹) Y2K fashion craze among others.”

Image: Douyin
Image: Douyin

The rise of color contact lens brands on social media and e-commerce sites further fuels this phenomenon. Brands like Hapa Kristin, a South Korea and LA-based contact lens retailer, have capitalized on mixed race aesthetics and aspirations, offering products that help users achieve the desired look.

On Xiaohongshu, Hapa Kristin has 4.11 million views, and its sales on Taobao are impressive, with top products clocking in at 4,000 to 7,000 units annually.

“The biggest driver of the trend is Chinese people’s perception of race,” Jiang says. Historical influences, such as Qing era scholar Yan Fu’s racial hierarchy with “yellow and white” people at the top, have left a lasting impact and contributed to the belief that Eurasians, perceived to have pale skin and pronounced features, are particularly attractive.

However, this preference for “mixed race” features is not uniform.

“Mixed-race individuals of Chinese and Black heritage are not similarly regarded,” Jiang says. She mentions Lou Jing, a 2009 reality show contestant with a Chinese mother and an African-American father, who faced nationwide criticism over her heritage. While some internet celebrities, like vlogger Nina, born to a Beijing-native mother and a father from Guinea-Bissau, are slowly changing perceptions among younger generations, progress remains slow.

China’s beauty standards have become slightly more diverse over the years, with pale skin no longer the ideal. Yet, truly open-minded attitudes are still hard to find in a predominantly homogenous society, says Jiang. “While tanned skin might be acceptable, being Black is still not,” she says.

Inner Circle’s McInnis believes the trend impacts beauty standards and perceptions of identity among young people in China.

“This trend is part of other continual reinterpretations in beauty standards and identity among Chinese youth by merging traditional values with global influences,” he says. “It represents a form of cultural hybridization where young people navigate dual identities. Social media allows them to project these blended personas, fostering a more inclusive and diverse view of beauty that aligns with global aspirations.”

The impact of the mixed race beauty trend on young Chinese people’s perceptions of beauty and identity is significant, according to experts.

“This trend is part of a wider trend of promoting whiteness, which I don’t think is super healthy,” Jiang, the cultural analyst says. “It reinforces the racial hierarchy.”

Alongside the mixed race beauty trend, there’s a set of aspirations associated with appearing white, such as the adoption of “white people food,” “dry-ass lunch,” and the “white girl” aesthetic of wearing athleisure and carrying a Stanley mug.

These trends, Jiang argues, often lack cultural awareness and are adopted without considering their broader implications. “Even if they are aware, there’s little use of it in a homogenous nation without being political,” she adds.

Laura Tang, Director of Social Media, APAC, at e-commerce insights agency WPIC Marketing and Technologies notes that while colored lenses complement the “Eurasian” look, their popularity reflects a broader preference for innovative and expressive beauty products.

“Chinese beauty consumers are exceptionally creative with how they use color in hair, lenses, and different types of makeup to express themselves,” Tang says. This creativity has made niche cosmetics brands offering bold, vibrant products highly successful in the Chinese market.

Image: Winkdollbeauty / Instagram
Image: Winkdollbeauty / Instagram

Ultimately, the mixed-race beauty trend aligns with the direction of growth seen in China’s beauty sector.

In April 2024 alone, sales on Douyin’s beauty track topped 10 billion RMB ($1.43 billion), up 41.5% YoY. Skincare items commanded 70% market share, with sales growing 47% YoY. Sales of cosmetics and fragrances exceeded 2.5 billion RMB ($357.5 million), making it the category with the fastest rate of growth, 52% YoY.

Experts like Jiang, the cultural analyst believe the mixed race beauty trend, while distinct, can coexist with other trends like guochao or “new Chinese style,” which celebrate Chinese cultural pride and heritage.

“These separate beauty and style trends are not mutually exclusive,” she says. “One can still wear mixed-race makeup while donning ‘new Chinese style’ fashion.”

McInnis of Inner Chapter, adds that the mixed race beauty trend reflects where China is today rather than its past. “It speaks to elements of cosmopolitanism and ‘choice’ where straddling different worlds and cultures can be a fluid way for youth to construct identity,” he says. Olympic skier Gu Ailing, for example, embodies this dual identity by bridging Eastern and Western worlds.

As China continues to explore evolving beauty standards, the mixed race trend highlights the complexities of cultural identity as well as the ongoing influence of historical perceptions of race in the nation’s rapidly-changing society.

Additional reporting by William Zhou.

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