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Wang Bei, the tragic face of China's craze for plastic surgery

Wang Bei was on her way to being a pop star, a pretty woman from the central province of Hubei who made the finals of China's answer to The X-Factor. When the 24-year-old died in the operating theatre during a routine plastic surgery procedure earlier this month, there was outrage in a country where 3 million people go under the knife every year in an often-unregulated environment.

In 2005, Ms Wang took part in the "Super Girl" talent contest but didn't win. She and her mother went for facelifts to improve their chances, but a doctor punctured a blood vessel and she never recovered. A spokesman from the health bureau in the Siangtan district of Wuhan city said she died of an anaesthetic accident.

"As the demand for plastic surgery surges in China, some doctors not trained in the field are carrying out the surgery, which is risky and irresponsible," said Zhang Huabin, a professor of plastic surgery with Guangdong Medical College.

China is increasingly fixated with beauty as the country grows more prosperous and its people become more conscious about looking good at any cost. In the larger cities, cosmetic surgery has become the norm as more women – and some, but relatively few, men – go under the knife.

Just a few years ago, this correspondent witnessed a plastic surgery operation – an eye tuck – take place in the seat beside him at the hairdressing salon, carried out by a man who was clearly not a doctor. But the wave of plastic surgery disasters in recent years has led to a much more regulated industry.

According to data from the Chinese Association of Plastic and Aesthetics, there were 200,000 people working in the plastic surgery industry, which produces an annual income of £1.5bn. But it needs to be done in the right way.

One association official, who asked not to be named, said: "The whole industry is growing and we are trying to lead a healthy trend. Accidents happen in all kinds of surgery, and Wang Bei's case is just an accident, it doesn't mean the whole plastic surgery market in China is in danger or something. Based on the work of our association, we can see positive development in recent years. And now the government supports the healthy management and this effort will help this industry a lot." He said that once an injection is involved, or a laser treatment, it's a medical procedure, and should only be done in a hospital.

One of the weirdest footnotes to this tale of woe is that while Ms Wang was having her facelift, her mother was at the same hospital in Wuhan, having plastic surgery to change her jawbone. "I wonder who would dare to get plastic surgery after hearing about this tragedy," wrote the internet commentator Ye Xiaolun.