China's Nip and Tuck Industry

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SHANGHAI, China -- After years of growth China's economy is slowing down for the first time since 2002.

But that hasn't stopped the Chinese, especially young women, from spending money on cosmetic plastic surgeries.  Tens of thousands of patients each year are rushing to go under the knife all in the quest to improve their looks and their lot in life.

Shanghai: Mecca for Cosmetic Surgeries

Shanghai is the eighth largest city the world and the emerging mecca for China's cosmetic surgery industry.

"Chinese women are going completely gaga about fixing up their face, fixing up their breasts, fixing up their leg," said Hung Huang, a fashion editor of a popular magazine in Shanghai.

It's a multi-billion dollar industry that has one of China's most renowned hospitals nipping, tucking, slicing, sucking, injecting and implanting around the clock.

Inside the Booming Cosmetic Industry

CBN News got an inside look at the booming cosmetic surgery industry at Shanghai's Ninth People's Hospital. Foreign journalists are rarely allowed access to the operating rooms.

The hospital has 16 operating theaters for its plastic surgery department alone, which handle tens of thousands of operations a year.

Click the player to watch CBN News Senior Reporter George Thomas' report followed by Pat Robertson's insights on inner beauty.

"I usually see between five and ten patients every day," said Dr. Lee, one of the head cosmetic surgeons at the hospital.

The hospital receives hundreds of calls each day for consultations.

Practically every room in this hospital is booked. There are rooms that just go on around the corner and every room is filled sometimes there are one, two, three patients to one operating room.

"As the economy soars people spend more money and time on their looks," said Dr. Lee.

'I Want Bigger Eyes'

During the taping of the story at the hospital, CBN News saw dozens of young women waiting to see a doctor.  One such young person was 21-year-old Lulu Zhang.  She told us that she wanted the doctors to bring her nose together, so she would have bigger eyes.

Zhang is a college student in Shanghai and was at the hospital that day to get a double-eyelid surgery.  It is the most popular procedure among Chinese women.

The procedure involves putting a crease in the eyelids to make the eyes seem rounder and bigger. The operation can cost as little as $500.

CBN News asked Zhang if she felt that by having bigger eyes that she would look more beautiful?

"I think so," she said.  "For me."

Better Future, Better Husband

For others like 19-year-old Kano, who also came to the hospital get her eyes worked on, it's about investing in the future.

During a brief interview, she explained that by having this surgery, it would give her more opportunity, perhaps even a better job.  Perhaps, even a better husband.  This was her reasoning behind her desire to have the surgery. 

'I Want To Be Taller'

In addition to other cosmetic procedures, hundreds of Chinese women are asking doctors to break their legs and insert metal rods just to gain a couple of inches in height.

"Western culture has exerted enormous influences on aesthetic standards, said Dr. Qing Feng Li, chief surgeon at the Ninth People's Hospital.

"The Chinese want bigger eyes, sharper noses, slimmer faces and want to be taller," he explained.

And that Western look is hard to escape from in the city. It's on billboards, on television screens, in countless fashion magazines and advertisements.

"The look is so appealing and glamorous," one young lady told CBN News on the streets of Shanghai.

Improve Their Lot in Life

But let's be clear: the overwhelming majority of Chinese people cannot afford this look or these cosmetics procedures. While the rich in China can access the top plastic surgery centers, cash-strapped patients like Kano have to rely on her parents to help foot the bill.

"Most of the patients we see are young students just out of high school," said Dr. Qing.

"With intense competition for jobs, many of these young people feel good looks will give them that crucial edge in the society," he said.

There are about 230 private cosmetic clinics in Shanghai alone. And the growing popularity of plastic surgery has allowed thousands of low-cost unlicensed centers to pop up throughout the country without much government oversight.

White is Beautiful

China's cosmetic market, the second largest in Asia, is also experiencing a boom. Tiffany Ding markets a line of skin care brands, including whitening products.

"The skin care products are really hot," said Ding of RealLink.

"In our Chinese culture, women think that if they look whiter they are more beautiful."

Many years ago, such pursuits of beauty were seen as meaningless western culture. Today as the standard of living rises and a middle class develops, the boom in the plastic surgery and cosmetic industry are yet more examples of how much this once-cloistered nation has changed.

*Original broadcast January 6, 2009.

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