What is a Peranakan face? How is it different from a regular Chinese face?

I get asked these 2 questions a lot from my “regular” Chinese friends, who don’t dispute I look different to them – in fact, many insist I do – but often wonder why. So in the interest of advancing everyone’s common knowledge, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve found, based upon hours and hours of scrutinising people’s faces, both over the internet and in real life. Yes, and while you weren’t paying attention, I was scrutinising you too.

Before I go any further, I should point out 2 things: 1) Peranakan’s do identify as Chinese, but also identify as Peranakan. It really depends on who you talk to and how aware they are of their cultural and ethnic heritage. 2) Many look like “regular” Chinese, but equally, in those who still have a lot of Peranakan in them (I’ve notice you need at least 50% of the genes), there is a marked difference.

Now what exactly is this difference? Before I go into the dry bits of this analysis, here are some pictures of well-known Peranakans for you to feast your eyes on.

A picture of Godfrey Gao, the first Asian Male Supermodel.

A picture of Godfrey Gao, the first Asian Male Supermodel. 

Godfrey’s Gao’s mother is a Peranakan from Penang and his father is a Taiwanese. He stands 195 cm tall and has the distinction of being the first Asian male to serve as the face of Louis Vuitton – which did not impress HRH much, since when I asked him how he’d feel if our son looked like this in future (given that 1 of my cousins DOES look strikingly similar) he went, “Bleh. He’s just riding on his looks.”

Below is another one for the ladies.

A picture of Godfrey Gao.

A picture of Godfrey Gao.

Then of course there’s Pierre Png, a Singaporean actor and comedian of Peranakan descent, who’s made many a heart flutter when he was younger.

A picture of Pierre Png from Singapore.

A picture of Pierre Png from Singapore.

HRH wasn’t too impressed by him either. “Show me some girls,” he said.

And here’s a shot of Pierre Png taken by a fan. He looks like another cousin of mine.

A picture of Pierre Png taken by a fan.

A picture of Pierre Png taken by a fan.

Then there’s Agnes Monica, a famous Indonesian singer who also identifies as Peranakan.

A picture of Agnes Monica of Indonesia.

A picture of Agnes Monica of Indonesia.

And so the gentlemen reading this post can’t say I’m unfair, here’s another picture of Agnes Monica.

A picture of Agnes Monica from Indonesia

A picture of Agnes Monica from Indonesia.

What you’ll notice about Peranakan faces is that most are long with very distinct jawlines. By contrast, most “regular” Chinese have round to oval faces with soft to non-existent jawlines. With Peranakan faces, the brow bones, bridge of the nose, cheekbones and chins all protrude. In “regular” Chinese, even those with rectangular faces, only the cheekbones are usually pronounced.

Apart from that, almost all Peranakan faces have what East Asians refer to as “double-eyelids.” Simply put, Peranakan eyelids have folds in them. Compared to “regular” Chinese with God-given double eyelids (I have to stress the God-given part since double-eyelid surgery is extremely popular in East Asia), the crease on Peranakan eyes is a lot deeper so that when the eyes open, they appear to be more deep-set.

I’ve also found Peranakans to have much finer hair. One of my “regular” Chinese friends who’s married a “regular” Chinese-looking Peranakan has a kid with light brown hair. The face looks like that of a “regular” Chinese but the hair colour prompts questions of parentage. Her other kid has thick, black, wiry, Chinese locks.

Perhaps it’s the weight gain later in life, but the older a Peranakan gets, the more “regular” Chinese looking he or she becomes. Faces remain long and the protrusions are all still there, but it’s as if the extra fat softens out the very contours that make the Peranakan face so visibly different from “regular” Chinese faces in mid-life to old age.

There is a lot of variation in skin-tone even within the same family. Very few Peranakan are whiter than white; most are a mid-tone, coffee with lots of milk colour and some too are very dark-skinned. My own skin-tone can easily go up or down 5 shades within a year. During winter, “regular” Chinese remark I look fair. If you ask me, I look borderline anaemic.

“Regular” Chinese like HRH, have a more constant skin-tone. Even with extreme changes in weather and temperature, the most his skin changes is 1 shade either way. Many of my “regular” Chinese friends report burning as a result of being in strong sun. If at all they tan, it takes a very long time for their skin to lighten. By comparison, I tan easily. However, after being out of the sun for a couple of weeks, the colour simply goes away.

 

 

 

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