Plastic surgery in Beijing
Huang wears a dark grey sweatshirt with a plastic Playboy logo. He is middle-aged, open and very chatty. We discuss sex change operations. He was the first surgeon in China to specialise in this procedure and advised the government on the regulations that now govern the operations. Every hospital in China tries to provide them now, since they are seen as proof of the technical skills of their surgeons, as well as of the open-mindedness of their bosses.
However, he himself has given up performing operations however, and not because of their grueling length or because his clients have struggled to readjust to normal life. Many of them end up dancing in the seedy bars on Sanya island, he says, because they are unable to hold down their original jobs or face down the prejudice and curiosity of society.
He quit because his mother insisted that his failure to have a child with his wife was because he had disrespected the laws of nature. Huang visited a Buddhist monk, together with three of his patients, in order to seek advice. He said that while no ordinary person would have been able to spot that the women were transsexuals, and that one of them was even married to a man who didn’t know she had formerly been a man, the monk saw through them straight away. He warned Huang it was bad karma to continue, but that he could do some modest repair work on previous clients if necessary. Huang lamented, however, that his wife had still not been able to conceive.
Then he told us about the growing demand for plastic surgery among Chinese government officials. Faced with having to appear before the television cameras on a more regular basis, and with having to make more public appearances, officials want to make sure they look the real deal. Demand for eye-lifting operations, nose jobs and other facial operations is through the roof. They now represent 20 per cent of all his work. He said no Politburo members had been tampered with, but said provincial governors and party secretaries were common enough and are smuggled in under cover of darkness, his other clients having been hustled out of the clinic.
Plastic surgery is also becoming a popular corporate gift for the senior executives of state-owned enterprises and their wives. It’s one way of cementing a deal, I suppose, although I’m surprised that the people giving the presents are willing to risk offending the recipients with the suggestion that they could benefit from a touch-up.
Dinner with Peter Foster, our Beijing bureau chief and his wife Claire in Sanlitun, where we went to a French restaurant above a flamenco dancing club, which itself was above a hip hop club, which sat in turn on top of a kebab stand that infused the whole building with its fragrance.