Hair Apparent: China's Elites Dye Their Gray Away
China's political and business elites seem to have an uncanny ability to avoid going gray.
That might come down to having superior genes or simple good luck. More likely, though, they are indulging in a vanity that in modern China has become virtually orthodox for aging men of influence: the dye job.
China's new lineup of the country's most senior leaders in the Politburo Standing Committee includes nine men who have nary a white strand of hair -- even though they range in age from 52 to 67.
Current President and party chief Hu Jintao, 64, still sports an ebony coiffure. Even his retired predecessor, 81-year-old Jiang Zemin, still turns up at major political events with a shiny black top.
'Political leaders need to go on television and are seen by the public. They need to show that they are in good health,' says Wang Zhengrun, deputy chief executive of a state-owned insecticide-manufacturing plant, who colors his hair with an herbal concoction.
Many men in other societies like Japan and India dye their hair, too. But few places seem as averse to gray as mainland China.
The penchant for black hair also extends beyond politics to China's increasingly cutthroat business world, where a youthful appearance is highly prized.
Experts say hair-fretting among the Chinese could be rooted in part in modern-day social conditions. Nearly three in five Chinese citizens are under 39 years old, making aging workers easy to replace.
'In China, age is a very big factor for promotions,' says Li Yinhe, a gender sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. That may explain Chinese men's compulsion to blacken hair, experts say.
Driven by the desire for youthfulness, the Chinese are powering hair-dye sales. Some $148 million of hair colorants were sold in China in 2006, up 75% since 2001, according to Euromonitor International. L'Oreal SA and Hong Kong-based Youngrace Cosmetic Group International Ltd. were among the leading providers. More Chinese also are using hair conditioners. Their sales have soared by 80% since 2001, to almost $275 million in China last year, according to Euromonitor. Still, barbers of influential politicians and businessmen insist that most dye their hair at home, for fear of being seen dyeing in public.
Some in ancient China might have found the practice taboo -- there is a Chinese proverb that exhorts people to leave things be, including graying hair, presumably. Confucius, the social thinker also known as Kong Fuzi, once compared hair and skin to inheritances 'from our parents, and we must not presume to injure or wound them.'
The Chinese never used to mess with their locks, and when they did, it was in exceptional circumstances, says Zhao Feng, an economic historian. When the Manchus conquered the Hans and established the Qing dynasty, the emperor ordered the front of Han men's heads shaved as a reminder of their subjugation. Earlier in Chinese history, Cao Cao, a poet and emperor, had made a strategic military error when he planned to commit suicide. But he was persuaded to settle for hair-cutting as a lesser -- but no less symbolic -- act of penance. Buddhist converts shave their heads as an act of renouncing worldly affairs.
It is unclear if emperors ever dyed their hair. Emperor and poet Cao Pi, Cao Cao's son who ruled the Wei kingdom, was said to have expressed relief in a letter to his friend about having still-ebony hair despite being old.
Yet China's growing consumer culture -- one that tells people they can have what they want -- has left those wise sayings behind. Instead, men are taking control, turning to pills and special shampoos on top of hair dyes. Pharmacists point to shou wu, an herbal formula that claims to cleanse the liver and kidney that are responsible for keeping hair healthy, as among the most popular solutions. Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong movie star, is seen on television peddling Bawang Shampoo concocted by Guangdong B&W International Group. It claims to keep hair black and intact.
Asians typically have thicker and straighter hair than do Caucasians. Asian hair type is actually more prone to hair-whitening, says You Yuanjian, chief hairstylist at MJ Hairdressing Salon in Beijing, which partly explains Chinese men's coloring obsessions. Yet unlike Caucasians, their hair is less likely to fall off in specific places. Instead, it will thin out evenly, sometimes making them look as if they don't have a balding problem, experts say.
There are a few exceptions to the sea of black. One exception is Larry Yung, 65, chairman of CITIC Pacific, an infrastructure-related conglomerate. In photographs, he is seen with a full head of white.
Another is Wu Yi, a vice premier who also happened to be, until recently, China's only top-level female official. She spots a shock of white, but her tenure in the Politburo just ended.
The antigray orthodoxy in China mirrors a growing anxiety about other features that accompany aging. Chen Huanran, a cosmetic surgeon, has seen the numbers of male patients pick up considerably in the past two years.
But there is one thing men will proudly keep: their beer bellies. 'They see them as status symbols,' Dr. Chen says.
中国社会科学院(Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)社会学所研究员、性别学专家李银河说，在中国，年龄是决定升迁的重要因素。专家们认为，这或许可以解释为何中国男性如此热衷于将头发染黑。
在中国人希望保持青春的愿望推动下，染发业在中国欣欣向荣。据Euromonitor International的数据，2006年中国染发剂销售额达1.48亿美元，较2001年增长75%。法国欧莱雅公司(L'oreal)和香港温雅化妆品国际集团(Youngrace Cosmetic Group International Ltd.)是大陆地区领先的染发剂供应商。使用护发品的中国人则更多。据Euromonitor International的数据，2006年中国护发品销售总额达2.75亿美元，较2001年增长80%。不过，常为政界和商界人士服务的理发师说，这些人不愿染发时被公众看到，因此大多数是在家中进行。
然而，随着崇尚我行我素的消费文化在中国流行开来，古人的教诲被置之脑后。中国的男人们越来越随心所欲，他们不但开始染发，为保护头发还服用药物或是使用特殊的洗发品。药剂师们指出，各种养发产品中最流行的养发成份是首乌。根据中医原理，首乌能补肝肾，有养发之功效。洗发水厂家广东霸王国际集团(Guangdong B&W International Group)甚至请到香港功夫明星成龙(Jackie Chan)为其“霸王”洗发水拍电视广告。据称这种洗发水能保持头发乌黑柔顺。
MJ Hairdressing Salon驻北京首席发型师尤元健（音）称，亚洲人的头发通常比高加索人更粗更直，也更容易变白。一定程度上这也是中国男性热衷染发的原因。而专家表示，亚洲人头上某些部位的头发不像高加索人那样容易脱落，而是会比较均匀地逐渐稀疏。所以，有时候看上去中国人中间脱发并不是大问题。
在众多“黑发”人之外也有一些特例。例如，大型基础建设企业中信泰富(Citic Pacific Ltd.)的董事长荣智健(Larry Yung)在照片上就是一头白发。