By Shannon Najmabadi
Xi Jinping (59), Li Keqiang (57), Wang Qishan (64), Yu Zhengsheng (68). Image credit: James Griffiths.
While retired Premier Zhu Rongji gained general support for his display of naturally aged grey hair at last November’s 18th Party Congress, his example has not seemed to set a precedent.
At the annual parliament session held last week, uniform red ties, Western-style suits, and black hair were constant among the Communist Party’s political elite, according to the BBC. However, the black hair consistently sported by even elderly political figures has led some to question why displaying grey or white strands is so uncommon amongst Chinese politicians.
This trend towards dyed hair could belie numerous political or social motivations.
According to the BBC, unnaturally youthful hair could be a tactical, and certainly not unheard of, method of presenting a well-kept political appearance. Hairstylist Hong Haiting, speaking to the BBC, said seeing a leader with grey hair would “make him look old… like he’s about to die!”
According to The Wall Street Journal, this mindset extends beyond the arena of politics and permeates the business world. With nearly three in five Chinese citizens under age 39, older workers are easily replaceable, said Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who was quoted by The Wall Street Journal. Hence, dyed hair could be seen as a strategic way to dodge age-based discrimination in the workplace.
Alternatively, this fixation on black hair could reflect a conscious attempt at homogeneity engineered by the Communist Party. According to the BBC, minimizing physical differences could help deflect blame from individual party members and emphasize inter-party stability.
“They’ve tried to show that the party is not dependent on any single personality, it’s an institution,” said Danwei founder Jeremy Goldkorn (previously), speaking to the BBC.
According to the BBC, “perfectly black hair is a political commitment that requires time and money.” Mr. Hong, speaking to the BBC, estimates that China’s black-haired political leaders have to touch up their roots every 10 days.
If China’s bigwigs reallocated that time and money to another project, perhaps they could provide a tangible indication of political stability and vitality, rather than just a psychological front of such virtues.
Were they to do that however, the question still remains: would the hair dye industry be able to survive on the vanities of middle-aged women alone?