The Cultural Significance of Eye Shape in Chinese And Japanese Societies

In many East Asian cultures, eye shape has a significant cultural and historical significance. In particular, Chinese and Japanese societies have long-held beliefs and values about the shape and size of the eyes. In this blog post, we will explore the cultural significance of eye shape in Chinese and Japanese societies.

Woman covering her face with leaves
Photo by Min An on Pexels

In China, the concept of "big eyes" (da yan jing) has long been associated with beauty and desirability. Historically, this ideal was represented in art and literature, where women with more enormous eyes were often depicted as more attractive and virtuous. Furthermore, in traditional Chinese medicine, it was believed that the size and shape of the eyes reflected a person's overall health and well-being, with small or narrow eyes suggesting poor health.

In Japan, the ideal eye shape has varied throughout history. During the Heian period (794-1185), the "almond-shaped" eye was considered the most beautiful, and women used makeup and other techniques to achieve this look. Later, during the Edo period (1603-1868), the ideal shifted to a rounder eye shape associated with cuteness and innocence. In contemporary Japan, the double eyelid, a crease in the upper eyelid, is often considered desirable and is commonly pursued through cosmetic surgery.

Beyond beauty ideals, eye shape has also held significance in both Chinese and Japanese societies as an indicator of ethnicity and cultural identity. For example, in China, the Han Chinese, the largest ethnic group, are often characterized by their "deep-set" eyes, while the Mongolians, Tibetans, and other minority groups are distinguished by their rounder eyes. Similarly, in Japan, the Ainu people, an indigenous group, have a distinct eye shape that differs from the typical Japanese eye.

The cultural significance of eye shape can also be seen in the widespread use of the term "monolid," which refers to an eye shape that lacks a visible crease in the upper eyelid. The term is often used to define the eye shape of people of East Asian descent, and it has been both celebrated and criticized for its associations with Asian identity.

While the cultural significance of eye shape in Chinese and Japanese societies has evolved, it still holds importance in both countries. In recent years, there has been a growing movement to challenge narrow beauty standards and embrace the diversity of eye shapes and sizes. Some have also criticized the cultural fetishization of double eyelids and other specific eye shapes, arguing that it reinforces harmful stereotypes and creates pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty ideals.

In conclusion, the cultural significance of eye shape in Chinese and Japanese societies runs deep, from beauty ideals to ethnicity and cultural identity markers. While there has been a push to broaden beauty standards and embrace diversity, it is necessary to understand the historical and cultural context in which these ideals developed.