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The History of Face Reading

Updated: Jul 11

Face Reading isn´t a new invention; rather, we are born with this ability. From birth, as babies, we read the faces of our parents and other caregivers.

Did you know that the 43 muscles in our face, which are involved in facial expressions, can create over 10,000 different expressions, each with its own unique meaning?

In our brain, there is even a specific area dedicated solely to interpreting facial expressions and recognizing faces - the "Fusiform Face Area (FFA)."

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Face Reading: Everyone can do it

Basically, we come into the world as face readers. As babies, we have no choice but to constantly interpret the facial expressions of the people around us since we do not yet understand language. Each of us has a natural gift for communicating with others through our facial expressions.

As soon as we learn our mother tongue and begin to experience societal influences, we start to unlearn our natural ability for face reading. The older we get, the more attention we give to our intellect. Often, our intuition and emotions take a back seat.

In the Beginning, There Was Face Reading

If we look back in history, we find that humans survived for many millennia without language. But how did these people communicate? Quite simply, they used face reading.

By looking at each other's faces, people could discern the intentions of others and understand their emotional states. It was essential to quickly determine if someone appeared, for example, sick, angry, sad, happy, or in love.

What the "Fusiform Face Area (FFA)" in our brain has to do with face reading

The processing of facial expressions (mimicry) and the differentiation of emotions mainly occur in various areas of our brain, including the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, and the cerebral cortex with specific regions such as the Fusiform Face Area (FFA).

Throughout human development, after many millennia, language was introduced and gradually evolved alongside the previously dominant mimic-based communication. This process led to continuous advancements in language, accompanied by increasing importance and influence—not only in our manner of expression but also in our ability to read faces. This evolution caused our ability to accurately read others' facial expressions to diminish over time. Studies show that the average ability to recognize facial expressions today is only about 60 percent.

It was not until approximately 35,000 years later that the advanced civilizations of the time remembered the original knowledge. They began to systematically interpret faces and record their findings. In China, face reading became so successful that it was continually refined and taught in schools and is still taught today—not as a simple technique or abstract art, but as a serious science.

How the Scurrent state of scienceviews this topic, can be found later in this article.

Face Reading "Siang Mien" or "Mian Xiang"

If you have already delved into Face Reading, you may have come across the terms "Siang Mien" or "Mian Xiang" (面相). These refer to face reading in Chinese. Together, "Mian Xiang" translates literally to "face reading" or "analysis of the face". "Siang Mien" is a transcription of the term into a Western language, so there is no consistent written form in Chinese characters for "Siang Mien".

"Mien" means "face" and is written as 面 (miàn) or 面貌 (miànmào). "Siang" means "read" or "interpret" and is written as 相 (xiāng).

Unfortunately, the exact origins of Chinese Face Reading cannot be precisely dated. However, it is believed to date back more than 3,000 years.


The great philosopher Confucius lived from 551 to 479 BC. By that time, the science of Chinese Face Reading, Siang Mien, was already well-developed. Over generations, the art of face reading was kept as a strict secret passed down from master to disciple.

"A child cannot be held responsible for their face, but an adult is accountable for their appearance!" - Confucius

The Emperor and His Fear of Face Reading

At the same time, the diverse wisdom of face reading was immortalized in the Siang Mien books. Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di (秦始皇帝), referred to as the "First Emperor of Qin," viewed these books with great disdain.

He feared that no one should be able to expose him through face reading as the malicious and cunning tyrant he was. Without hesitation, he ordered countless valuable writings from the time of Confucius to be burned. This clearly demonstrates how profoundly the rulers of ancient China were influenced by the art of face reading.

In 221 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di ruled over the Middle Kingdom. He hailed from Qin, which since 288 BC had been considered one of the largest and wealthiest Chinese states.

Conscious Painting Deception

Even the tradition of having a court painter portray him was avoided by Emperor Qin Shi Huang. His fear of someone discerning his true character was too great.

Instead, he instructed the creation of a completely different image of himself. This portrait immortalized all auspicious facial features, deceiving his subjects into believing in his kindness and benevolence.

Following his death, one of China's largest mausoleums was built for Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di, home to the world-renowned Terracotta Army of thousands of figures, each with unique facial features.

The burning of face reading books led to much of the existing knowledge about Siang Mien being preserved only orally. This was supplemented by the insights of Siang Mien masters who traveled the world to study the faces of other cultures.

Face Reading in other Cultures

While China indeed has the longest tradition in face reading, it's not exclusively an Asian science. Even in our culture, the art of face reading was known. However, during the Middle Ages, such writings and records were condemned by the Church as witchcraft and magic, and often consigned to the flames.

In the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, face reading is also mentioned. For example, there are instances where a face reader interprets the Pharaoh's countenance. Many other cultures, including those in South America, also utilized face reading to draw conclusions from the human face.

The Greeks focused on physiognomy, which involves interpreting health-related issues from facial features. India also has a millennia-old history of face reading.

Sub-disciplines of Face Reading

  • Physiognomy: Physiognomy, also known as Sonnerschau, is the study of signs of illness in the face.

  • Physiognomy: Physiognomy deals with the personality and character traits of a person.

  • Mimikresonanz: Here, the emotions of the counterpart are read - "Reading facial expressions"

  • Lectura del Rostro: This technique from South America focuses on deciphering signs of love.

Hippocrates - Founder of Pathophysiognomics

Hippocrates, who lived from 460 to 375 BC, is considered the founder of pathophysiognomics.

The Greek word "Pathophysiognomik" is composed as follows:

»Pathos« = suffering

»Physis« = body

»Gnome« = sign

Hippocrates wondered how a person's appearance is related to their internal processes. With great compassion for humanity, he explored the connections that formed the basis of pathophysiognomics.

Aristotle and Galen - Early Face Readers

Even Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) and Plato (427 – 347 BC) possessed deep knowledge of human nature. From this era stem numerous writings that explore the connection between outward appearance and a person's personality.

Five hundred years later, Galen, who lived from 129 to 210 AD, continued Aristotle's work in physiognomy. As a practicing physician, he found these writings immensely valuable.

Physiognomy - a form of Face Reading

»Physis« = body

»Gnomikos« = capable of judgment

Through the Greeks and Romans, face reading gradually entered our cultural sphere.

In the Middle Ages, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1197) and Paracelsus (1453-1541) believed that internal states of the body are reflected externally. The famous saying "the eyes are the window to the soul" originates from Hildegard von Bingen.

Johann Batista della Porta (1535-1615), in his work „De Humana Physiognomonia“ considered the whole person and their outward-directed organs. His comprehensive examination of humans and animals was based on a close relationship between the soul and the body.

His work is regarded as an important foundation for the development of physiognomy and facial diagnosis.

Face Reading in the Renaissance

In addition, renowned artists of the Renaissance such as Raphael Sanzio, Michelangelo Buonarotti, and Leonardo da Vinci conducted extensive studies on the subject.

During the Romantic era, physiognomy became more widely known in Europe, piquing the interest of young scientists. It also sparked interest in the art scene. The more enthusiasm physiognomy generated, the stronger the criticism against it became.

Lavater and Physiognomy

The charismatic pastor Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801) was a recognized and esteemed figure during that time. Scholars, statesmen, writers, princes, doctors, and artists were among his circle of friends. His focus was clearly on charity, which brought an entirely new aspect to physiognomy.

With his work „Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkenntnis und Menschenliebe” (Physiognomical Fragments for the Promotion of Human Insight and Human Love), he triggered a veritable hype.

Lavater was considered a "physiognomist of Intuition" and was known for his high standards in observation and analytical perception. Comparative and logical thinking, as well as memory, were also important to him.

Face Reading and Goethe

Another prominent supporter of physiognomy was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), although he was initially known as a critic. Later on, he even completed the four-volume work „Physiognomische Fragmente“ by Johann Caspar Lavater“.

A famous quote by Goethe: "The inner nature of a person reveals itself in their outward appearance."

Other well-known supporters of physiognomy included the philosophers Leibnitz, Kant, Schopenhauer, and Schelling, the statesman Hardenberg, as well as the physician and poet Schiller. During that time, the topic of physiognomy was actively discussed in scholarly circles.

Franz Josef Gall and his incorrect Thesis

Franz Josef Gall (1758-1828), a physician and researcher, unfortunately discredited physiognomy. He mistakenly believed that criminals could be identified by the shape of their skulls. Previously, he extensively researched the connection between the behavior of murderers and their body shape and anatomy.

A brief digression: In the 1920s and 30s, pseudoscientific doctrines of this nature gained ground again before being largely supplanted by genetics during the era of National Socialism. For a long time, hereditary theories, eugenics, and racial hygiene were the leading racist disciplines.

Carl Gustav Carus and the golden ratio

The Dresden physician Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869) facilitated the teaching of physiognomy with the development of the golden ratio. He referenced the symbolism of the human body and incorporated body proportions into his physiognomical observations.

Schüßler and Sonnerschau

Wilhelm Heinrich Schüßler (1821–1898) founded his own form of therapy outside of medical science. He possessed extensive knowledge of facial analysis, also known as Sonnerschau. In over 30 comprehensive books, he demonstrated that faces reveal the body's need for mineral substances.

His main work is the book "Menschenkenntnis, Körperformen und Gesichtsausdruckskunde" (Understanding People, Body Shapes, and Facial Expression Studies). Schüßler salts are still widely used in homeopathy today.

Huter - Founder of Psycho-Physiognomics

At the same time, Carl Heinrich Conrad Huter (1861-1912) dedicated his life to exploring physiognomy. As the founder of Psycho-Physiognomics, he was the first to develop a teachable system and an understandable structure that is still applied today.

Psycho-Physiognomics posits that individuals carry certain character traits based on their body shape and facial expression zones. For instance, wrinkles indicate the life path and frequently experienced emotions of a person. Huter also paid particular attention to the development of radiance, different shades of color, and discolorations in the face.

Face Reading and Science Today

Face reading has now made its way into research. Currently, various study designs are being prepared and developed to support and investigate this millennia-old empirical science through contemporary studies. More information on this topic will be available soon on my website.

In which areas can Face Reading be applied?

  • for personality analysis

  • for identifying one's own strengths

  • discovering talents and potentials

  • in Recruiting

  • in negotiations

  • in team building

  • during job interviews

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