China Rich Girlfriend, the sequel to Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. (Photo: Doubleday)
Novels about wealthy, beautiful women who live in glamorous cities have become somewhat of a chick lit cliché — though we never seem to tire of reading their endless iterations — but in Kevin Kwan’s new summer release, China Rich Girlfriend, the sequel to his bestseller Crazy Rich Asians, these elite, picture-perfect (on the surface) women are not only Asian, but also live in Asia. When Kwan’s first novel, Crazy Rich Asians, came onto the scene, it was revolutionary because it didn’t stereotype or Orientalize modern Asian women in Singapore, Hong Kong, or China; it depicted them as savvy, smart, real people who have flaws and make mistakes — and wear more couture than anyone else in Paris or New York.
One of the most riveting and consistent plot devices in China Rich Girlfriend is the grooming practices of the jet set elite, with distinctive styles that separate Singaporean, Hong Kong, and mainland Chinese women — and yes, contains prejudices of their own. Changing your image can help you climb up the social hierarchy, or it can bring you down and topple dynasties.
Author Kevin Kwan. (Photo: Doubleday)
In the book, Kitty Pong, a flamboyant mainland Chinese soap opera star who married one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest, attempts to break into Hong Kong high society by toning down her Dita Von Teese ultra-glam look. Her social climbing consultant, Corinna Ko-Tung, who comes from an old money family, tells Pong that if she doesn’t learn to conform with established Hong Kong ladies and change her image, “Your in-box will be filled with invitations for cocktails at the Chopard boutique or art openings in Sheung Wan. Sure, you may occasionally be invited to one of Pascal Pang’s parties, but the real Hong Kong will always be closed to you.” She ends on a positive note for desperate Pong: “[P]ractically anyone can rise up in Hong Kong society. It’s all about perception, really.”
In her professional “Social Impact Assessment” of Pong, Ko-Tung applauds Pong on her plastic surgery, which includes breast reduction surgery, cheekbone sculpting, a nose job, fillers, and Botox. “[N]ow you have the body shape considered ideal to the women you seek to cultivate — delicately emaciated, with just a hint of a well-managed eating disorder,” she writes. She warns Pong that any more procedures will make her look “too perfect,” which “will only incite jealousy.”
“Presentation is so important in Asia. It’s part of your career resume, and so plastic surgery is widely accepted,” Kwan tells Yahoo Beauty. Many of Asia’s elites and non-elites, for examples, flock to South Korea, the number one country in the world for cosmetic procedures, for body modifications like double eyelid surgery to make the eyes bigger or liposuction. Makeup-wise, Pong is told to “create a visage that is pleasing and nonthreatening to well-bred women of all age groups,” instead of her usual “tofu-milk and cherry-red lips,” and sets up a consultation at an Elizabeth Arden counter for this new look. For nails, Kwan, careful to make this book so close to reality that it causes discomfort, even makes a Jin Soon reference — Pong is advised to wear the Nostalgia shade of pink beige polish for special occasions.
This buzzy summer beach read is full of satirical but endearing assessments and depictions of Asia’s elite women, who are as critical of themselves as they are of each other. “I think a lot of Asians can relate to these harsh criticisms,” Kwan tells Yahoo Beauty. “Criticism in Asian culture is a form of love, and that’s a distinction I have to make.” And in China Rich Girlfriend, where behaviors and appearances are dissected over dim sum overlooking Kong Hong’s skyline, it’s both your loving grandma and your nemesis making the same comments about your nose job.