Madame makeover

Updated: 2011-12-30 07:42

By Ji Xiang (China Daily)

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Madame makeover

When asked what would be "the ultimate clothes to wear on the last day if 2012 saw the end of the world", beauty guru Yue-Sai Kan answers: "Red baby, wear red." [Provided to China Daily]

Beauty expert continues to help modernize the face of China

There is war-war, there is jaw-jaw, there is ping-pong and there are beauty contests. Yue-Sai Kan reckons that the Miss Universe competition is as good a vehicle as any for China to project soft power. Kan knows a thing or two about such matters, being the national director of Miss Universe China.

When Luo Zilin of China was named fourth runner-up in Miss Universe in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in September 2011, one of those in the audience cheering for her was Kan.

Kan has made a great effort in the past 20 years to modernize the image of China that is projected to the world, much of it through television. She first started a program called Looking East in 1978 with the aim of bridging the East and West. In 1984 she cooperated with State broadcaster China Central Television to make a live broadcast from China to the West. After that the Chinese government offered her a new TV series One World, believed to be the first time that a series was hosted by a Chinese American on national Chinese TV.

For Kan, who has residences in Shanghai and New York, the sheer scale of Miss Universe is reason enough to be enthusiastic about it. This year 10 million people worldwide are said to have watched the competition, in which competitors from nearly 90 countries took part. "We keep talking about the soft power of the Chinese around the world," Kan says. "Here it is, a perfectly unpolitical situation where we can showcase our soft power. Why don't we pay more attention to this? This is one of the few competitions in the world where we can wave our Chinese flag and bring glory to China."

Miss Universe China, she believes, is a great chance to demonstrate that the country is capable of running global competitions and that with the proper training young Chinese women have what it takes to gain international recognition.

When Luo Zilin did her stint for Chinese diplomacy this year, she achieved another notable feat: Putting one more stake into the heart of the notion that China is devoid of tall beauties. Luo (1.83 meters), even if she does not quite measure up to the basketballer Yao Ming (2.29 meters), had delivered that message to a huge audience.

While Kan is delighted with the overseas numbers who watched Miss Universe this year, the sad part for her is that for all the impressive numbers abroad, so few Chinese are aware of the pageant and of its importance. She wishes the competition was televised live on the Chinese mainland.

Being in the media industry for years, Kan is highly pragmatic in the way she views beauty contests. "Miss Universe China is a business, a beauty business. We are able to highlight our products," she says.

In 1992 she founded a cosmetics company in her own name, saying there was a dearth of cosmetics suitable for Asian skin tones. Imported products have never come up to the mark, she says, and she stores great importance in having her products tested on Asian skins. By 2003, the company was generating annual revenues of nearly $50 million (38 million euros) before it was sold to cosmetics giant L'Oreal in May 2004.

Issues of beauty and climate bring in at least a couple of other compass points too, as is the case in looking at the demands of Chinese when it comes to cosmetics. A skin care product that Kan has on the market tries to meet one such demand by deftly taking care of the diverse needs of northerners and southerners in one fell swoop. The geographic dissimilarities are well tested in the market, northerners preferring oily cream foundations to protect their skin against harsh weather, but southerners opting for powders for liquids.

Beauty is, of course, more than skin deep, and cosmetics can never be the complete answer. "Without health, how can you be talking about beauty?" Kan says. She then rattles off a quick-fire recipe for healthy living, something she has no doubt done countless times before. "Sleep eight hours a day; don't go into the sun; cut down on sweets, carbohydrates and fried food. All these cost nothing but can make you really healthier."

One of Kan's large spread interests is writing books. She has written several on the subject of how to attain one's style and beauty, including one for men. Another was about home decorating, and yet another book is in the works.

"It will give more training to make you an outstanding international lady, just as we train Miss Universe China. All the tricks will be there. It will cover new areas even about how to pose in front of a camera and how to answer questions when asked," Kan says.

She is also well-known as a humanitarian. Through her work with charitable organizations she has supported thousands of people, many she has never met. She says she feels most gratified when someone comes up to her and says, "You may not know me, but I was one of the recipients of your scholarship."

Recently she set up China Beauty Fund with the Soong Ching Ling Foundation, the group named after the wife of Sun Yat-sen. At the fund's next big charity event, Miss China's table will cost 250,000 yuan.

"Beauty is power, and celebrities can do a lot of good," Kan says.