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Korean cosmetic surgery and digital publicity: beauty by Korean design.

In the 2000s, Korean cosmetic surgery rose as a by-product of the massive cultural phenomenon known as Hallyu, or the 'Korean wave'. Hallyu represents Korea's media success: its entertainment products have generated enormous revenues since the first exports of Korean popular culture in the 1990s. In 2009, Hallyu revenues were estimated to have reached US$6 billion (cited in Oh, 2010). Cosmetic surgery was first promoted alongside the original Hallyu staples of film, TV and music, through the Korean celebrities featured in these products. By the late 2000s, cosmetic surgery had become a multi-million-dollar export industry in its own right (Sim, 2009).

This article examines the role of digital publicity in facilitating the enormous popularity of cosmetic surgery in South Korea (hereafter Korea). In examining this publicity (comprising media reports, advertisements and commentaries), we focus mainly on how Korean cosmetic surgery is presented in Korea. We then compare this with its promotion in China. We chose China for comparison because, even though Korean cosmetic surgery is popular throughout Asia, China has become its largest export market (Kim et al., 2009). This conspicuous Chinese demand for Korean cosmetic surgery attracted a range of media commentary within China from the mid-2000s onwards, with many noting that 'artificial beauty' was fast becoming a leading Korean export aggressively marketed via Chinese intermediaries (e.g. Chen and Song, 2005; Kai, 2008).

Our analysis is based on the premise that there is a vital link between cosmetic surgery and digital technology in Korea. We argue that the widespread use of technology in Korea has been a catalyst for Koreans to view cosmetic surgery positively as a form of human physiological enhancement. Hence we are interested to see how the publicity surrounding Korean cosmetic surgery reflects this view. We then examine this view in the Chinese context, taking into account that nation's rise in the use of digital communications.

Cosmetic surgery can be described as an extreme example of commercialised medicine, one that actively negates the idea of the natural body as sacred. Zygmunt Bauman (in Bauman and Vecchi, 2004: 91) offers us the evocative image of a technologically empowered consumer society as 'liquid modern life'. As he puts it: 'We are all in and on the market, simultaneously customers and commodities.' The sheer prevalence of cosmetic surgery in the Korean media presents us with an acute instance of this situation.

In what follows, we begin by exploring the digital experience of everyday life in Korea and its influence on the normalisation of cosmetic surgery. We then discuss the ideal physical characteristics promoted in cosmetic surgery, contextualised against widespread acceptance of surgically enhanced beauty in the digital age. Finally, we consider the impact of Korean cosmetic surgery in China.

Cosmetic surgery and digital Korea

The fact that Korea is the world's most wired society, with 97 per cent national broadband penetration, indicates the extent to which the everyday experience of Korean citizens is both digitally mediated and media-converged. (1) The state's intensive and strategic capital investment in this national broadband was part of the processes of democratisation and market deregulation that were underway in the 1990s. By the late 1990s, Korea's national broadband had fostered distinctive networks of investment and production in the creative industries that were developed further throughout the 2000s (Ryoo, 2009). Technological innovation was secured through fierce competition between telecommunication service providers, leading to Korea's world leader status in digital technology and innovation by 2004, a position it has maintained since.

These developments produced two important interrelated consequences. First, Korea's super-fast broadband network after 1997 turned digital communication into an integral part of Korean daily life, with super-fast connectivity producing a highly intricate relationship between digital technology and the formation of personal and collective values (Lee, 2009; Choi et al., 2009). Second, digital technology encouraged the rapid growth of Korea's lifestyle and entertainment media. Significant numbers of talented Koreans were drawn into creative occupations (in film, design, music and other areas) and their products achieved success first in Korea, before being repackaged for overseas consumption as part of Hallyu. The introduction of stringent regulations against copying and piracy also facilitated Hallyu's growth, protecting Korean intellectual property and promoting the Korean 'brand' overseas (Ryoo, 2009: 142).

Because a large part of urban Korean work and home life is conducted electronically, and digital billboards and screens crowd the streets and subways, ordinary Koreans (particularly residents of Seoul) live in a state of intensive digital immersion. By digital technology (as opposed to analogue technology), we mean the diverse range of binary-coded electronic tools in common use today (computers and cameras through phones to the latest generation TV sets) that generate, store, process and transmit vast amounts of data at very high speeds. In digital technology, speed is the crucial index of change.

An online article reports that in 2012, improvements to Korea's IT infrastructure will significantly accelerate internet connection speeds (at ten times faster than current speeds) and improve high-definition TV images (making them sixteen times clearer than current images). (2) For comparison, the current Net Index survey (29 March 2009-28 September 2011) shows that whereas South Korea's average consumer download speed is 28.94 Mbps, Australia's is 8.55 Mbps.3 Speed matters, especially in online communications: the greater the speed, the more powerful the experience of 'presence and flow' (Joinson et al., 2007: 308-10).

In brief, every digital technological advance enriches this speed-reliant sense of 'presence and flow' in the online user's experience of reality. The fact that in 2010, household internet penetration in Korea had reached 81.6 per cent, with some 48.9 per cent of users spending over fourteen hours online each day, indicates the extent to which digital communications shape everyday life. (4) The dominance of social media further confirms the depth of this digital influence. A March 2011 report, citing a survey by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, states that 60 per cent of Korean consumers in their twenties have purchased products or services through social commerce (that is, buying with the aid of user-generated content and through social networking sites) (Lee, 2011).

When we consider these facts against the copious amounts of information about cosmetic surgery on Korea's two most popular portals, Daum and Naver, we get a sense of how vital digital publicity has become in promoting this industry since the 2000s. (5) Here, we establish a link between cosmetic surgery and entertainment culture from the prevalent use of Korean TV, film and music celebrities to endorse surgical procedures.

The Korean-language internet abounds with media reports of celebrities who have received free cosmetic surgery in return for promoting a given clinic's expertise. Many are paid for endorsing the sponsoring clinic. (The amounts paid are not disclosed, and hence we do not know how they compare with fees for other types of endorsement.) Media agents are involved in 'matching' Korean celebrities to particular clinics, and handling the related publicity. These reports reflect the view that photographs of the surgically modified celebrities, complemented by media interviews, are effective advertising tools for attracting prospective 'buyers'. Extensive use is also made of social networking sites (Cyworld and Twitter) to promote the celebrity's altered image, typically presenting the procedure as a total success. It is normally in the course of media interviews that the celebrity mentions the name of the sponsoring clinic. (6)

At Daum, public interest in cosmetic surgery is reflected in the some 6793 online communities (known as 'internet cafes') hosted on this portal that actively promote cosmetic surgery. In stark contrast, Daum hosts only around 165 'cafes' that address the negative consequences of cosmetic surgery. 'Beauty Guide Daum Cafe' is the most popular of these communities, with a membership of 522,234 as of 28 September 2011. The caption for the cafe is 'Korea's top cosmetic community: half a million women use this space to talk about beauty' ( At Naver, there are 6721 'cafes' promoting cosmetic surgery with 'Hey Foxy, Beauty Cafe' (http://cafe.daum. net/obgy5282) the leading site, with a current membership of 531,169.

Blogs concerning cosmetic surgery are also an eye-catching feature of the Korean internet. Daum currently hosts some 47,781 cosmetic surgery blogs. Of these, a large number were founded by clinics to promote their surgeons. Other blogs are those of advertising and media companies that feature the latest news and trends in cosmetic surgery. There are also thousands of personal blogs put up by individuals with a keen interest in cosmetic surgery. Daum also hosts 3274 social networking sites (SNS) on cosmetic surgery (predominantly utilising Twitter, Me Today, Yozeum and Facebook). SNS messaging--the main function of these sites--alerts followers and potential customers to surgical news and trends, and promotes clinics by publicising their websites. Messages are permanently stored at these sites, together with growing numbers of 'before' and 'after' photographs and video clips of people undergoing surgery.

Publicising beauty as competitive advantage

Qualitatively, the extent of cosmetic surgery's integration into contemporary Korea's value system can be seen in the popularity of eyelid and nose procedures that Korean parents frequently present to their children as high school graduation gifts. (A 2002 Time magazine article reports that this practice was already widespread that year.) While cosmetic surgery points to a person's underlying dissatisfaction with their physical appearance, the symbolism of cosmetic surgery as a rite-of-passage gift clearly exceeds the goals of aesthetic correction per se. Presented as such, the act of going under the knife becomes an 'adventure' of self-improvement that marks a person's rise in social standing. Furthermore, the parental approval expressed through the gift turns the surgical procedure and its anticipated result into an event of family bonding.

Our survey of online Korean communications (including media reports and comments posted at 'cafes' and blogs) reveals that positive views of cosmetic surgery greatly exceed negative ones. This appears to have been the case throughout the 2000s. For instance, in February 2005, former president Roh Moo-hyun (a self-styled progressive) and his wife publicly described themselves as satisfied beneficiaries of eyelid procedures (Shin, 2005). To date, women remain by far the largest group of cosmetic surgery recipients in Korea. This is reflected in the preponderance of photographs of surgically modified females (whether famous or ordinary) used as publicity on the Korean internet.

This publicity has the effect of reinforcing the commodification of female beauty as a 'trophy' for the successful male, whether as prospective husband or employer (Feingold, 1990). In online comments, this is often indirectly expressed through such phrases as 'looking confident' or 'feeling like a new person', which are used to praise or express satisfaction with the surgical result. Nonetheless, there has also been an increase in the number of Korean males seeking cosmetic surgery. Thus the former gender asymmetry that placed women unilaterally under the male gaze is slowly being displaced by an increased self-scrutiny across both genders, with a common hope of improving career and marriage prospects. Most importantly, cosmetic surgery is being aggressively marketed to the young.

News articles indicate that a widely held belief among Korean teachers and parents is that good looks improve a student's chances of getting ahead and enjoying university life (Bae, 2010; Yu, 2010). A 2004 nationwide survey by the Korean Social Survey Institute reports that 37.6 per cent of the 8140 school students interviewed wanted cosmetic surgery, believing it would make them beautiful (cited in Park, 2004). Hence cosmetic surgery is presented as offering adolescents and young adults a competitive edge at school, university and in the workplace. This view is also prevalent in Japan (e.g. Business Asia, 2002). As these reports indicate, in both countries this form of parental anxiety is acute in professional middle-class households. Some clinics, capitalising on familial involvement, entice parents with the offer of free Botox injections for the mothers of young cosmetic surgery recipients (Bae, 2010).

Whether cosmetic surgery actually delivers the anticipated outcomes is open to question. But by reinforcing already prevalent assumptions that physical beauty begets a better life, surgical aesthetics effectively confine beauty to a narrow set of definitions. There is a common perception, perpetuated in the international media, that the Caucasian facial aesthetics idealised in Korean cosmetic surgery signify a desire to appear 'Western' (Bissell and Chung, 2009; Chung, 2011). A closer examination of how cosmetic surgery is advertised reveals this perception to be grossly reductive.

Strictly speaking, Korean surgical goals do reflect Caucasian facial ideals, with the double eyelid; the high narrow dorsum with a sharply defined nose-tip and the well-sculpted chin being the staple desiderata of prospective cosmetic surgery customers. But what is more pertinent is that these idealised features are largely effaced of ethnic and racial significance because they are advertised as a consumer ideal of beauty. This ideal is promoted as a symbol of social success--the beauty that the high-achieving individual 'deserves' (because he or she can afford, as it were, to look like a star).

Here we must note that the facial aesthetics recommended by cosmetic surgeons worldwide accord with the idea of the 'Golden Ratio' in which the human face is perceived as being at its most beautiful when the features on both sides are perfectly symmetrical and when facial measurements accord with the phi ratio of 1:1.618 (Papel et al., 2009: 123). This classical conception of beauty and its utilisation in cosmetic surgery as a 'science' has a global reach. The middle classes of industrialised societies worldwide are its intended marketing targets (Albright, 2007).

What makes cosmetic surgery marketing in Korea of particular interest is its intensity and depth of representation. Clearly, as an industry, cosmetic surgery seeks to generate profit and expand its market share. There is hence a constant demand for 'innovation', concomitant with the intensification of production, in which customers who have already had 'eye jobs' (the most common and least invasive surgery) are actively encouraged to modify other parts of their face and body.

A survey of print and online advertisements in the mainstream Korean media in 2011 reveals a distinct focus on chin-trimming, together with the marketing of other popular forms of surgery (especially eyes, nose, and breasts). We found that the homepages of major outlets like the Korean-language Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, Hankook Ilbo, Donga Ilbo, Hankyoreh Shinmoon, and the English-language Korea Herald and Korea Times rarely feature advertisements for cosmetic surgery. Nonetheless they play an important role in boosting existing digital publicity for a given procedure whenever a celebrity undergoes the surgery in question.

For example, Shin Eun-Kyoung, one of Korea's most popular actresses, announced on 23 August 2011 that she had her chin 'trimmed'. For the next week, all of the Korean-language media outlets listed above displayed 'before-and-after' photographs of Shin's face. Clicking any news item about Shin's surgery on the homepage takes the reader not only to the full report but also to numerous advertisements featured along the margins, many of which are for cosmetic surgery clinics. These advertisements typically feature pre- and post-surgical photographs with brief statements about the procedure's affordability and the excellent results achieved. Clicking on the advertisement takes the reader to another cosmetic surgery advertisement replete with more photographs of different procedures, 'success stories' and media reports about cosmetic surgeons at public events. These websites typically include numerous links to services and further information.

Digital publicity for Shin's chin-trimming procedure was most comprehensive on her fan-site (, which posted a wealth of information and named the clinic where the surgery was performed (White Clinic). The site also featured photographs of other celebrities who had their chins 'trimmed' at the same clinic. While 'chin trimming' was the focus of the online advertisements that accompanied reports about Shin's operation in Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, Hankook Ilbo, Donga Ilbo and Hankyoreh Shinmoon, there were also advertisements for other popular procedures, with the 'trimming' of facial cheeks being promoted as a complementary procedure to chin 'trimming'.

The print and online versions of the major Korean newspapers carried the same reports and images. But the online version alone offers the 'click-through' function that allows readers to access multiple related web pages, of which the majority are advertisements featuring the services of cosmetic surgery clinics. While no statistics are available to measure the causal link between digital publicity and cosmetic surgery, the sheer magnitude of online information about cosmetic surgery is broadly indicative of such a link. In this regard, the cosmetic surgery 'cafes' and blogs hosted at Daum and Naver appear to play a significant role in further extending publicity for the different procedures by providing supplementary information and user-generated content.

More broadly, the role of celebrities in publicising particular procedures can be discerned from the concerted media interest in the 'chin-trimming' operations of Yi Pa Ni (in April 2011) and Shin Eun-Kyoung (August 2011). In Google Trends, graphs showing the search traffic for Korean-language information about Yi and Shin's operations indicate significant peaks between April and July 2011 (for Yi) and in August 2011 (for Shin).7 Here we should note the many online communities dedicated to celebrity surgeries, with the 'Celebrities and Cosmetic Surgery Cafe' being the most popular. This sub-set of the Byuti Gaideu Cafe features photographs of celebrities with their surgeons and mentions the names of the clinics where the operations were performed.8 There is typically a wide variety of positive comments about the celebrity's altered appearance, with Shin's recent operation attracting such effusive praise as 'Wow, the power of chin-trimming,' 'What a great result!' and 'How can I become like her?' There was also the poignant comment: 'Wow, this is the power of money.' (9)

Since the late 2000s, YouTube has also become a common medium for advertising Korean cosmetic surgery, with many of the video clips (currently 391 for Korean surgery) being provided by the clinics themselves. Of these, 72 videos were of eye-bag and eye-wrinkle treatments, 137 were of the removal of forehead wrinkles and the remaining 109 were of various other procedures and interviews with Korean cosmetic surgeons and the recipients of surgery. All of these clips are in Korean and the comments generated are relatively few. As an indication, one of the most popular clips (a breast augmentation procedure) was viewed 44,210 times but attracted only four comments.10 The interview clips are clearly for promotional purposes: the surgeons explain their skills while satisfied customers express enthusiasm about their altered appearance.

Since the marketing of cosmetic surgery is aimed at convincing consumers to purchase the procedures being advertised, low-cost digital publicity ensures that the advertising 'package' of pre- and post-operative photographs, media reports and other promotional information is delivered at speed to the prospective customer. Moreover, in the era of Web 2.0, the ease of 'click-throughs' between communal 'cafe' sites, clinic websites, online media sites, blogs, videos and SNS heightens the sense of 'presence and flow' (noted earlier) that readers experience when searching for information about cosmetic surgery.

'Effective change' is the key message offered in the marketing of clinics and procedures. Because cosmetic surgery is promoted as self-improvement and career improvement, it is not surprising that the various advertisements and advertorials all seek to convince readers of a decisive change of appearance (via the use of strikingly contrastive before-and-after images, most likely with digital enhancement of the post-operative image). In still images, the effect is often accentuated with the use of arrows and lines to highlight the areas of modification, together with such captions as 'perfect V line' (denoting a well-trimmed chin). This message of 'effective change', reinforced through the endorsements of surgically modified celebrities and public figures, is also widely echoed in the majority of comments posted at 'cafes' and blogs.

This evident preoccupation with aestheticised faces and bodies on the Korean internet, coupled with the sheer abundance of photographic images of 'surgical success', strikingly illustrates Bauman's point about the customer-as-commodity (cited earlier, Bauman and Vecchi, 2004). In other words, the individual (whether famous or unknown) whose 'before' and 'after' photographs appear on the internet becomes a source of personalised marketing for the industry. This is especially true of celebrities who serve as living 'products' for the clinics they endorse.

The capitalist logic driving cosmetic surgery is evident in the shift from the initial focus on eye-jobs in the early 2000s to that of chin-jobs in 2011. Consumers must continue to want cosmetic surgery for the industry to succeed. But cosmetic surgeons must also achieve efficiencies by inducing consumers into conforming to industry-determined standards and trends. Thus there is enormous media publicity surrounding statements made by prominent Korean cosmetic surgeons about their aesthetic preferences. In 2008, a media survey listed the preferences of several Korean cosmetic surgeons who were household names, using a format whereby each surgeon named ten current Korean celebrities as exemplars of beauty, assigning each celebrity to a specific body part (Ahn, 2008). This practice has now become an integral part of cosmetic surgery marketing (further reinforced through online communities like 'Celebrities and Cosmetic Surgery Cafe').

In this manner, consumers are encouraged on the one hand to identify with exemplars of surgically enhanced beauty (i.e. celebrities), while on the other they learn how to dissemble the human form into component parts for cosmetic surgical treatment (at varying fees). With the human form rendered discontinuous in this manner, the 'Golden Ratio' is effectively marketed as a scientific standard (and not a Caucasian or Asian standard). Moreover, aesthetic improvement is presented mostly as something to be achieved incrementally (hence the abundance of chin-trimming advertisements in 2011), since few potential customers would have the means to afford a complete facial and body makeover all at once.

The concepts of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation offered by Deleuze and Guattari (1988) are helpful here for understanding the marketing of cosmetic surgery as transcultural: promoting an aesthetic assemblage as opposed to a given ethnic type. Since deterritorialisation refers to a process of abstraction or extraction that dislocates an element, substance or trait from its habitus, the facial and body features promoted in Korean cosmetic surgery can be said to be 'deterritorialised', as they are similar to the features promoted by cosmetic surgeons elsewhere. By the same token, as these features are also commonly perceived as Caucasian, they have also undergone a 'reterritorialisation' (or recoding). The surgically modified face and body is now neither Asian nor Western, but rather a 'scientific' ideal: as the advertising caption for chin-trimming puts it, the desired effect is simply a 'perfect V line'.

Korean cosmetic surgery in China

The marketing success of Korean cosmetic surgery is evident in the People's Republic of China, where 'Korean cosmetic surgery' (Hanshi zhengxing) and 'Korean-style beauty' (Hanshi meirong) are key phrases in the advertising of cosmetic surgery. Indeed, popular demand for Korean cosmetic surgery has reached such a peak that in March 2010, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a warning about the pitfalls of medical tourism, noting specifically that Chinese women planning to undergo cosmetic surgical procedures in Korea should be aware of the failure rate and other adverse health consequences (Kircz, 2010). In contrast, numerous Chinese articles report the satisfaction of the medical tourists (e.g. Cao, 2011).

Current numbers of mainland Chinese medical tourists to Korea are not available, but the frequency of Chinese-language media reports and commentaries on this topic indicates that Korean medical tourism is a significant trend. A November 2010 survey conducted by Ping'an yihao (Peace is No. 1), a medical services website, notes that of the 620,823 Chinese interviewed, more than 50 per cent expressed a desire to undergo cosmetic surgery in Korea (Cao, 2011).

Korean cosmetic surgery is clearly perceived as a superior 'brand' in China. This is evident from the thousands of positive media reviews that include such endorsements from Chinese surgeons as: 'Korean surgeons are skilled in attending to detail and perform surgery in half the time taken in China.' (Choi, 2007) There is also significant media attention surrounding the medical visits of Chinese surgeons to Korean clinics, with the names of the participating Chinese and Korean surgeons frequently listed (Hong, 2010).

Consequently, a sizeable number of Korean surgeons have established clinics in Beijing and Shanghai. By 2005, there were some 50 Korean-owned clinics operating in both cities (Ko et al., 2005: 11). More recently, there have been partnership schemes whereby Chinese-owned clinics offer consultations and surgical operations performed by Korean surgeons who are flown in for weekend visits. In 2010, there were some 30 clinics of this kind in Shanghai (Kim, 2010).

The majority of online Chinese-language articles and blog commentaries praise the results of Korean cosmetic surgery and a clear link is often stated between Hallyu's surgically beautified stars and the success of Korean cosmetic surgery in China (Kim et al., 2009: 3; Dai 2009: 11; Cao 2011). Moreover, cosmetic surgery is a popular discussion topic at leading platforms like Baidu Tieba (literally 'Baidu Paste Bar'). In the fora (known as ba or 'bars') on cosmetic surgery, Korean surgeons and clinics are mentioned frequently.

The most widely read post on cosmetic surgery at Baidu Tieba is 'How to Evaluate Cosmetic Surgery Clinics', which clocked 219,950 hits by 28 September 2011. Interestingly, the commentator notes that clinics promoting 'Korean-style cosmetic surgery' in China are all privately owned, and urges readers to opt for surgery at state-owned Chinese hospitals instead.11 A link is provided to another article stating that there is no difference between the skills of good Chinese and Korean surgeons.12 This type of reaction also appears on government websites. For instance, an article dated 26 January 2011 at the cn site (a subsidiary of the leading state media source People's Daily) warns against false advertising used to promote Korean cosmetic surgeons in China.13

A rough indication of Chinese-language digital publicity about Korean cosmetic surgery can be discerned by entering 'Hanshi zhengxing' (Korean cosmetic surgery) on China's two leading search engines, Baidu and Tencent. Results of 1,940,000 and 1,020,000 were respectively returned (28 September 2011). Baidu returned 40,700 results for 'Shen Enqing' (Shin Eun-Kyoung in Chinese) and 'chin trimming'. At Baidu Baike (the equivalent of Wikipedia in China), an extended entry for 'Korean cosmetic surgery' locates its origins in the popularity of Korean TV dramas in China.14 The fact that there has been some backlash, with online media reports focusing on spurious uses of the 'Korean' label (Kai, 2008: 54-55) and criticising the over-rated skills of Korean surgeons (Tengxun dayu wang, 2010), is itself an index of Korean cosmetic surgery's export success.

The majority of mainland Chinese cosmetic surgery recipients are demographically similar to their Korean counterparts (namely, senior high school and university students, mainly female but with a rising number of male recipients, and professional women in their twenties and thirties).15 This makes the rapid development of digital media in China--whose consumers are predominantly from this demographic segment--a highly important context for the rise of Hallyu and Korean cosmetic surgery. A 2010 survey notes that China's 384 million internet users in 2009 are likely to increase to more than 650 million by 2015. It also states that people aged 35 and under make up 73 per cent of China's total online population and account for 80 per cent of China's online hours. Most importantly, of these, 80 per cent access the internet for entertainment, media information and social networking, including TV content (Michael and Zhou, 2010: 5-6).

In China, heavy censorship of political dissent has indirectly aided the meteoric rise of lifestyle and entertainment media, for these do not challenge the status quo of China's market economy under party-state rule. Hallyu products (including publicity for Korean cosmetic surgery) make up a significant share of this media and, like the majority of lifestyle and entertainment products in China, are readily accessible online.


A 2009 global survey sponsored by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery indicates that on a per capita basis, cosmetic procedures were highest in Korea where (in a population of 48.8 million), 13.5 procedures per 1000 people were performed. The same survey shows China to have the third highest number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed in 2009 (with a total of 2,193,945), behind the United States and Brazil (Cosmetic Surgery Times, 2011). What is noteworthy about the digital publicity surrounding cosmetic surgery in both Korea and China is the emphasis on 'self-improvement' through surgery. In this regard, there is little difference between Korean and Chinese reports that praise the skills of Korean cosmetic surgeons--though, as noted earlier, there is also a notable number of Chinese articles cautioning against indiscriminate embrace of the Korean 'brand'. But even in these cases, it is fraudulent practice that is being criticised, not cosmetic surgery per se.

The Korean government's active involvement in the export of cosmetic surgery is also frequently noted, with Chinese articles tending to reflect a tacit admiration for the entrepreneurial prowess of Korea's state and corporate sectors (e.g. Chen and Song, 2005: 139). One Chinese report states that Korea's 'developed country' status is writ large on the surgically enhanced faces of its female stars (Tengxun dayu wang, 2010). On this point, we should note that while the websites of Chinese and Korean clinics are similar in many respects, (16) there is one distinctive difference. Whereas the Chinese websites are mostly monolingual, the Korean sites often feature the four languages of Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English. The global reach of 'beauty by Korean design' is also writ large in this respect.


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Yu, Sang-Wook 2010, 'Seungjin Ijikeul Wihae Seonghyeong Susulhaneun Jikjangin (Cosmetic Surgery for Professionals to Achieve Promotion or Seek other Jobs)',, 15 September,


(1) See top-tech-market-nordicsremain-the-land-of-promise- for-startups.

(2) Korea Communications Commission, cited in 'Digital Media in South Korea', Singapore Management University at note-9.

(3) 'Household Download Index' at Net Index,

(4) These figures, cited from the official Korean '2010 Survey on Internet Usage', are reported at

(5) For reasons of space, we confine our examples mainly to Daum. The situation with Naver is highly similar.

(6) Our observations are based on reports posted on Daum, notably, 20110903060005696&p=moneytoday&t__nil_economy=uptxt&nil_id=6; %C5%E4%BC%A5&nil_profile=newskwd&nil_id=v20110903060005696; and http://search. C5%A9&nil_profile=newskwd&nil_id=v20110903060005696.

(7) For Yi, see geo=kr&geor=all&date=2011; for Shin, see %EC%8B%A0%EC%9D%80%EA%B2%BD&ctab=0&geo=kr&geor=all&date=2011&sort=0.

(8) See

(9) See

(10) See

(11) See

(12) See

(13) See

(14) See

(15) See you-have-YoungChinese-drive-Korea-s-plastic-surgery-boom; job-prospects-news-international-khynubjifee.html.

(16) The website for the Stary Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery Clinic in Beijing, featuring 'Koreanstyle surgery' as an industry standard, is typical in this regard:

Gloria Davies is an Associate Professor in the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University. Her research interests are mainly in comparative criticism, Chinese intellectual history and contemporary Chinese thought.

Gil-Soo Han is an Associate Professor in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, Monash University. His research interests include communications and media with reference to intercultural relations, religion and health.
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Author:Davies, Gloria; Han, Gil-Soo
Publication:Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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