The Chinese hairstyling industry as we know it today is the product of market capitalism. Before the 1980’s, most Chinese haircuts happened in state-run barbershops. But as China experimented with a market economy, the hairstyling industry blossomed. The 1990’s was the golden era for hairstyling. Anybody who knew the trade could make a good living, by the day’s standards. A 45 year old stylist recently told me that in the early 1990’s, he was able to make 500 RMB/month (a high salary for the time), whereas previously he had worked a danwei job and was only making 100 RMB/month.
But these days, the outlook on the industry is not rosy. Incomes have stagnated while living costs have increased. There are several reasons for this, but the most commonly sited one by insiders is that there are simply too many hair salons. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious being that the golden age attracted an entire generation to learn the trade. Now this generation is at the age when they expect to open up their own salon and be the boss, the natural progression within the industry.
One solution, which I am hearing more and more salon owners suggest is government regulation. “This industry is 乱 (in disarray). Anybody can open a salon. You can study the trade for 3 months, then open up a salon and be a boss. There is no government regulation whatsoever,” one informant tells me. The example of Japan is often suggested as a model to follow. In Japan, stylists must attend a formal training school for 3 years before they begin working. “Because of this, not only is the industry more 珍贵 (legitimate), but stylists have a higher standing in society, since they are cultured and educated,” another informant tells me. But most importantly, Japan’s system provides a “们康” (gatekeeping mechanism) which levels the number of stylists entering the industry at any given point. “The government, they don’t care about us (不管我们). We want to be regulated by the government. It is the only way to save this industry,” another boss tells me. Even pure market capitalists want government regulation sometimes.