Nennu and Shunu in Modern China


Photograph by Frederic J. Brown. Getty Images. 2003.


The image above is taken at the first Miss Plastic Surgery Pageant in Bejing China in 2003. The pageant was created by women who had been turned away from China’s beauty pageants because they had undergone plastic surgery. They decided to create a pageant strictly for women who had been altered as a way to celebrate their crafted appearance. This picture leads me to make the claim that China’s cosmetic industry and societal pressure to appear young and beautiful runs so deeply that such things as “Miss Plastic Surgery” have become socially accepted.

nice to make a thesis statement

To support my claim I will further analyze this picture’s denotations and the cultural connotations that follow.

Background, Foreground and Focus

As we can see, the picture’s focus is the winning contestant front and center. The photographer chose to place this subject in the foreground to draw our attention to her. Looking more into this choice, we see that the photographer puts a lot of importance on the winner. Clearly this woman is being celebrated for winning the pageant. She is being honored for having done multiple surgeries altering her appearance to be seen as beautiful. In contrast to this, we look at the background and notice all the other contestants. There appears to be 2 runner ups and the rest of the “losers” in the far back. The women in the back aren’t even in focus. These photographer’s choices can only mean that these losing women aren’t worth focusing on or aren’t as important as the most beautiful winner. Again, there is such an importance set on this winning female for the best surgery results.

The Appearance

Looking more closely at the actual women we can see their appearances. They all appear young, thin and in the eyes of the public, very beautiful. We can see on the winning contestant and other women that they are all very made up ranging from cosmetics to hair style to dress. Their faces we know have been altered through surgery so we can assume such things as their skin has been tightened, their noses redone and possibly eye structure as well. The connotations that are implied through all these observations tell us that these are the ideal features for women to possess. The fact that the winner has bright defined cheekbones or perfect untouched skin suggests that everyone should strive to appear that way because that has been determined as beautiful.


My article was very focused on the concept of nennu and shunu. This picture is a great representation of these terms in every day life. As I mentioned earlier, these women appear very young as their skin is bright and not wrinkled. They seem in shape as well. This is the embodiment of the term nennu translating to “tender”. The reality of this picture though is that not all these women are actually so young. A lot of contestants were middle aged women who underwent surgery to appear younger also known as the transition from shunu (ripe) to nennu. This desire to appear young is so strong that grown women are desperately trying to alter themselves through surgery.

well structures and supported piece. what does the transition from shunu to nennu via surgical operation suggest to us?