Meinü Jingji/China's beauty economy: Buying looks, shifting value, and changing place

Gary Xu, Susan Feiner

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Along with the new products, modes of behavior, and economic relations that followed China's 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) came the introduction of new words to everyday language. The term mein jingji, "beauty economy," is increasingly ubiquitous, describing everything from beauty pageants, modeling competitions, advertisement, cosmetics, and cosmetic surgery to tourism, TV, and cinema, and even extending to China's success in the Athens Olympics. One of the unexpected by-products of this new cultural focus on beauty as a significant source of individual economic success is the full bloom of beauty pageants endorsed by the state. This article focuses on these pageants: their history in China, their promotion of Anglo-European beauty norms, and their relationship with Chinese national identity and economic reform. The paper argues that the beauty pageants are a prerequisite of China's neoliberal policies as they promote consumerism, reinforce and symbolize commodification, divert attention to the personal, and undermine political protest of the ravages of economic reforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-323
Number of pages17
JournalFeminist Economics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Beauty pageant
  • China
  • Meinü jingji
  • Neoliberalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics


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