In China, so much depends on face, but not the cultural catchall term for honor so prevalent in Asia; no, today we’re talking about the modern mania concerning the oh-so pretty face, 脸 (liǎn). A pretty countenance can save a terrible performance, a bad outfit, an annoying drama, and pretty much anything else you can imagine—all solved with the benefit of a pretty mug. Thus, in a world obsessed with appearance and vanity, many cry out: “我对这个看脸的世界绝望了! (Wǒ duì zhège kàn liǎn de shìjiè juéwàng le! I can’t see any hope in such a face-judging world!)” Usually, this phrase is used in a joking manner, with a sense of self-satire, as in: “我在微博上发了一张自拍照，结果丢了一大半粉丝! 我对这个看脸的世界绝望了! (Half of my followers left me after I posted a selfie on Weibo! I can’t see any hope in such a face-judging world!)”
A decent appearance and a refined manner are part of Chinese politeness, but it’s always stressed that one should never 以貌取人 (yǐ mào qǔ rén), meaning “judge people based on appearance”.
What a wonderful world it would be if anyone took that advice. However, today, many are 颜控 (yán kòng) or “face obsessed”, dyed in the wool 外貌党 (wàimàodǎng), or “face-judgers”, and proud of it. While 颜 and 外貌 all refer to appearance, 控 (kòng) comes from the Japanese word con, which in turn was borrowed from the first syllable of the English word “complex”.
If you say you are face obsessed, it suggests that appearance is what you value most in the world. Fans of pop stars who care little for their work or artistic merit are called 颜饭 (yánfàn, literally, a fan of face).
When it comes to romance and relationships, the face-judgers’ standard is simple: 我是个外貌党，找男友的唯一标准就是长得帅 (Wǒ shìgè wàimàodǎng, zhǎo nányǒu de wéiyī biāozhǔn jiùshì zhǎngdé shuài. Since I am a face-judger, the only standard for my future boyfriend is a handsome look). Also keep an eye out for another relevant phrase: 外貌协会 (wàimào xiéhuì), meaning “appearance club”, which refers to a club consisting of face-judgers.
For the not-so-pretty faces, love life is bleak in our mad, mad, mad face-judging world. For every romantic memory for high school or college sweethearts of the beautiful people, there’s a sigh from the plain looking: “只有长得好看的人才有青春, 像我们这种人就只有上学。” (Zhǐyǒu zhǎngde hǎokàn de rén cái yǒu qīngchūn, xiàng wǒmen zhè zhǒng rén jiù zhǐyǒu shàngxué. Only good-looking people really experienced youth, all we had was going to school).