‘Woman With Brown Hair Near White Painted Wall’ and division of the face according to Mian Xiang

Can Traditional Chinese Face Reading Provide Insight on Your Future, Health, and Character?

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面相 (‘miàn xiàng’, or less accurately as ‘mien shiang’) is a type of Chinese divination that relies on the observation of a person’s facial features. Apart from divining an individual’s future, practitioners and advocates of Mian Xiang believe that this practice may be used to determine a person’s character. Due to this, it has been widely used in the past, from parents seeking brides for their sons, to the selection of suitable candidates for Imperial positions. Furthermore, Mian Xiang has been employed in traditional Chinese medicine as a diagnostic tool. Mian Xiang is still used by the Chinese today, and has also become popular in the West over the last few decades.  

The First to Use Mian Xiang

The word 面 may be translated to mean ‘face’, whilst one of the meanings of the word 相is that of ‘appearance’. Therefore, 面相 could be literally translated as the ‘appearance of the face’. This practice, which has also been described as ‘Chinese face reading’, is said by some to have originated during the reign of the legendary Huang Di (meaning ‘Yellow Emperor’). Others claim that Mian Xiang was first practiced during the 6th century BC by magicians who were not entirely affiliated with any particular religion. Yet others have credited rural Taoist shamans as the progenitors of Mian Xiang. Regardless, towards the end of the 3rd century BC, Mian Xiang was already an integral part of the Chinese way of life, as evidenced in certain classical treatises that were written at that time, such as the Golden Scissors, and the Bamboo Chronicles.

Chinese medical illustration in traditional style: Face massage.

Chinese medical illustration in traditional style: Face massage. (Wellcome Images/ CC BY 4.0 )

Dividing and Analyzing the Face

Different aspect of a person’s face may be analyzed using Mian Xiang. For example, a face may be divided into three portions. The first of these covers the area from the forehead to the eyebrows. This is often referred to as ‘Heaven’, and is believed to show a person’s childhood and youth. The next portion, which is from the eyebrows until the base of the nose, is called ‘Human’. This part of the face is associated with an individual’s adulthood. Finally, the area between the base of the nose and the bottom of the face is called ‘Earth’, and correlates with a person’s old age. It is claimed that by reading the features contained in these three areas, a Mian Xiang practitioner could tell a great deal about an individual’s life. The face may be further divided into 13 sub-sections for a more detailed assessment of a person’s life.   

Two Qing Chinese paediatric face diagnosis charts.

Two Qing Chinese paediatric face diagnosis charts. ( Wellcome Images /CC BY 4.0 )

Another method of analysis used by Mian Xiang practitioners is the reading of individual facial features. For example, it is believed that for ordinary people, the space between their two eyes is the width of one eye. People whose eyes are separated by a larger distance are said to have a higher tendency of being laid-back and relaxed, whilst those with a smaller distance are believed to have a greater inclination towards being focused in what they do.

Mian Xiang suggests the distance between your eyes can show if you are laid-back or focused.

Mian Xiang suggests the distance between your eyes can show if you are laid-back or focused. (Steve Evans/ CC BY 2.0 )

Another example is the thickness of the lips. People with thin lips are said to be more prone towards being argumentative, whilst those with rounded ones are said to be more likely to have the gift of charming others with their words.

Thick or thin, Mian Xiang says your lips have something important to say about your character.

Thick or thin, Mian Xiang says your lips have something important to say about your character. ( CC0)

Mian Xiang also takes into consideration the shape of a face in its assessment of an individual. According to this practice, there are five types of facial shapes, each of which representing one of the Five Elements, i.e. Fire, Water, Earth, Wood, and Metal. Additionally, each facial type is contains the characteristics associated with their respective element. Thus, for example, a round face is considered to be of the Water element, and people with such faces are said to be generally adaptable and flexible. Other characteristics associated with this facial shape include generosity, optimism, and cheerfulness.

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Kalash girls with traditional clothing.
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