Barbershop 2014

Posted in Barbershop at 3:36 am by Benjamin Ross

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Blogging is like exercise.  Once you build momentum, it’s easy to keep going. When you’ve been stagnant for a long period, it’s tough to pick up the slack and remotivate yourself.  So let’s cut to the chase:  I’m in the 4th year of a PhD program in Sociology, and I’m planning to formulate a dissertation on the hairstyling industry in China.  I’ve maintained contact with many of my old colleagues from 2007 at The Red Sun (which no longer exists), and have told them of my plan to write a dissertation on their trade.  For the most part, they are stoked to potentially be a part of a book which will “propel me to fame and make a million dollars.”  I’m thinking more realistically that it may get me an academic job and sell a few hundred copies.  Like last year, I’m back in China for 4 months working as a TA for the University of Chicago’s Study Abroad Program in Beijing, but I’ll be using as much time as possible for the beginnings of the resurrection of the barbershop project.

So…what exactly do you want to know about the hairstyling industry?  What is your research question?  This is the obvious followup to anyone familiar with the social sciences.  And this is part of the reason I’m resurrecting the blog.  China’s economic development and urbanization over the past 3 decades has radically changed the opportunities and work trajectories for rural and semi-rural residents.  This changing employment market has been covered extensively by sociologists and anthropologists such as Tiantian Zheng, Li Zhang, and Amy Hanser.  The Chinese hairstyling industry on the other hand, has received scant attention (as far as I know) from researchers.  Yet it is prevalent all over the country, has been evolving along with changes in the economy, and provides a major avenue to work opportunities for (mostly) men who do not finish high school.

To address this, I’ve been using an approach that researchers call “grounded theory.”  In short, it’s the idea that you jump into your research before you’ve formulated your research question.  My former boss at the Red Sun, Li Wen Zhong (who insists I use his real name), is currently running a hairstyling school in Fuzhou.  He has graciously invited me to visit the school for a few weeks before my responsibilities begin in Beijing.  So this is where I’ll be, for the next couple weeks, interacting with students and teachers of the trade, and formulating ideas for a dissertation project…and of course chipping away at that first million dollars.


  1. Hao Hao Report United States said,

    March 16, 2014 at 11:07 am

    Someone thinks this story is hao-tastic

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it.

  2. Mark Charters United States said,

    March 17, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I’d like to know what percentage of them are gay. I’m pretty sure that given the gender disparity in China since the OCP that these salons are a natural point of gravitation for young gay guys. They probably realise that not having attended Uni means that no house, no car = no wife these days, so have embraced their gayness and gone the whole hog with the bouffant hairstyles, hipster trousers, effete manner etc etc

    Get thee out there and scrunch those numbers, Uncle Ben!

  3. Mark Charters United States said,

    March 17, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    I want a Union Jack next to my name please, not a Stars and Stripes – get it sorted!

  4. Benjamin Ross China said,

    March 18, 2014 at 7:56 am


    Very interesting question indeed, and one that I’ve actually never brought up for fear of sensitivity. Generally speaking, hairstyling is a pretty outwardly masculine industry in China. There are not the outward associations with homosexuality that you’d get in the West. That being said, by law of numbers, I’m sure there are gay hairdressers in China. But my (completely unsubstantiated) hunch is that they probably run right around the average for the population as a whole. People ask me occasionally about the hairstyling industry in the US, and I have yet to bring up the association it has with homosexuality, for fear of the awkwardness it might bring up. Most of these guys come from backgrounds where homosexuality isn’t something that’s talked about, unless it’s on the subject of an occasional joke.

    And your stars and stripes is probably the location of your VPN. Either that or it’s symbolic of expression of your sense of colonial guilt towards your former imperial possession. :)

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