Back in Fuzhou

Posted in Barbershop at 2:10 pm by Benjamin Ross

Nearly two years ago, after taking an extended break from the barbershop scene, I made the decision to write my doctoral dissertation on the development of the Chinese hairstyling industry as a cross-sectional peak into the largest urbanization project in the history of the world. The vast majority of hairstylists in China are from rural villages and small towns, and for the last 30 years, they have been part of a rapidly changing industry, which in many ways has mirrored China’s transition to a free market. When I discussed my previous experience working in a barbershop in Fuzhou, my primary academic advisor insisted I use it as a topic for my dissertation. I pitched the idea to several Chinese sociologists as well, and they each felt it was ripe for sociological analysis. The key would be to find the right angle, and develop solid research questions.

I made two return trips to Fujian in 2013 and 2014 to catch up with old contacts and, assess the feasibility of writing a dissertation about them and their industry. My old boss at the Red Sun, Li Wen Zhong (who insists I use his real name) and his business partner Sister Xie were onboard with the idea, and invited me to stay at the Red Sun Hairstyling Academy where Li was the headmaster. I spent about 2 weeks each in 2013 and 2014 at the school, conducting ethnographic research with stylists from across the province and beyond, and building my list of contacts for a potential dissertation. Doing “cold call” ethnography in China can be difficult. Due to my yearly spring residence as a TA at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, I had been trying to build relationships with stylists up North, but with little to show for my efforts. But using my personal relationships with Li Wen Zhong, his circle of friends in the industry, and students at the school, I have built up a sizable (WeChat) rolodex of hairstylists and other industry workers (i.e. product representatives, educators) who are onboard with my research.

This winter, I am having my first extended fieldwork stay in Fujian. I arrived here in mid-December, and will be staying until the end of March, when I return to Beijing for the spring academic quarter. Months ago, I tossed around the idea of blogging my fieldwork experiences, and came to the conclusion that blogs are all but dead. They had a great ride, which coincided with me living in China full-time (2004-2007), petered out towards the end of the millennium, and now appear to have succumbed to the rise of rapid-fire social media status updates. This aside, I’m basically here alone in Fuzhou, in terms of people I can converse intelligently with in my native language. Now that I’ve been here almost a month, I’m realizing I could benefit from a forum to discuss some of the more interesting trends I’ve been learning about. Even if readership is low, a medium for me to record ideas (in a more synthesized format than fieldnotes) is always helpful in the march to a finished product. So here you have it. I’m resurrecting the blog. I’m looking forward to your commentary as I continue to learn about this fascinating industry, and refine my research questions which will hopefully yield a contribution to the fields of sociology, geography, and migration studies.


  1. Jiyin United States said,

    January 19, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    Keep posting, I will read and comment :)

  2. Tex said,

    January 19, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    I think you should keep your group of dedicated readers who will gladly read and respond.

  3. Lori said,

    January 19, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Proud of you Ben! Keep up the awesome work!!!!!!!

  4. Eric Austria said,

    January 19, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Nice to have you back, Ben; looking forward to your posts, which I always enjoy.

  5. scott United Kingdom said,

    January 19, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    Some of my friends from when I lived in Fuzhou are still there, I think you probably knew them too actually. Drop me a line if you want their contact details. I’d love to go back and see how the city has changed, please post some photos :)

    Good luck!

  6. Cathy United States said,

    January 20, 2015 at 12:53 am

    I’m still reading. Also, are you still tweeting? Tweet the links to your posts!

  7. Joseph Lemien United States said,

    January 20, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    I’m glad that you are resurrecting it. I’ve always enjoyed reading the thoughts that you post here, and I can’t wait to see what your research is uncovering.

  8. Daniel Singapore said,

    January 21, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Nice to have both you and your blog back. Keep calm and continue to write.

  9. Sherman United States said,

    January 22, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Looking forward to the return of your blog.

  10. Edna Hong Kong said,

    February 4, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Great to have you back, Ben! Really enjoying reading your posts again. And let me know if you’re ever in Shanghai, would be great to catch up.

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