Chinese media report that ten women in their forties are traveling to Switzerland for a "revitalization" therapy using fresh fetal sheep liver cells at the Clinique La Prairie Medical and Revitalization Center on the shores of Lake Geneva in Montreaux. The trip will cost them 200,000 yuan (29,000 US dollars) each.
The fetal cells, taken as a drink, could hold back the effects of aging and help the recipient regain vitality and increase immunity, it is claimed.
Products that are said to contain fetal ovine liver cells have emerged in China too, but they reportedly lack quality assurance. Hence the Swiss craze.
Another 30 were expressing interest in the package, said Zhang Xiao, chairman of the Nanning Overseas Travel Service Co., Ltd., in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Zhang said half the participants were entrepreneurs and the rest were wives of government officials. "They are all deeply concerned with the aging problem."
The travel agency will arrange all the tourists' requirements in Switzerland, including interpreters to communicate with the doctors.
"For a career woman like me, money is not a problem, I just want my health and beauty back," a participant surnamed Xu said. "I also persuaded four of my friends to come."
"Doctors told me I should receive the therapy every two years for the best effect," Xu said. "I believe it is worth every penny."
Beauty tourism is a flourishing industry in China, but the trip is well beyond the means of most Chinese city dwellers, who earned an average disposable income of 1,460 yuan (213 U.S dollars) a month in the first half of this year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
"We offer services to a growing number of customers receiving the therapy in Switzerland," said Liu Jingtao, a Beijing representative of the Clinique La Prairie Medical and Revitalization Center.
"For the entire year of 2003, we only got one customer, but it has grown to 30 this year," Liu said.
"The international beauty industry is focusing on research and development more than ever, but China lags far behind," said Ba Shusong, deputy head of Financial Research Institute of Development Research Center of the State Council.
"That's why China's beauty industry has failed to satisfy the ever-growing number of high-end customers," Ba said.
Almost half of China's beauty practitioners had never received vocational training. A training program for junior beauticians lasted just 20 to 30 days, about a tenth as long as those set by Western industrial standards, he said.
"Would you put your health and beauty into the hands of unqualified beauticians?" Ba asked.