In the Black: Chinese Politicians Cling to their Youth

china hair

Either for maintaining a  youthful image or political unity, masking one’s silvering mane has become a hot  issue for China’s political leaders- especially when there is a refusal to dye.

After this month’s televised Communist Party Congress, it wasn’t the discussions that made headlines around the world, it was former Premier Zhu Rongji’s hair.  Rongji’s refusal to dye his hair black seems to have sparked much controversy than his policies.  It’s almost an unwritten rule that China’s political leaders should have black hair. Even newly elected President Xi Jinping budgeted the party’s hair dye in exchange for cutting government spending on banquets, floral arrangements, and alcohol consumption.

For some commentators, it  seems rather vain and indulgent for these older politicians to care about having glossy black hair, but the  values of these Chinese leaders are mirrored in wider society.  Young Chinese makes comments such as, “ I don’t want to see my leader with grey hair.  It will make them look old…like he’s about to die!”  An aging worker is less likely to be promoted, and more likely to be replaced with a younger worker, and  China’s huge youthful cohort  (nearly three in five citizens are under 39 years old) has prompted widespread anxieties for older workers, fearful of ageist dismissal.

newly elected President Xi Jinping budgeted the party’s hair dye in exchange for cutting government spending on banquets, floral arrangements, and alcohol consumption.

In a country that ostensibly respects the Confucian tradition to “not presume to injure or wound” the hair and skin inherited from our parents, the helmets of black hair in China’s parliament may be theorized to represent political conformity.  When politicians don their ‘uniform’ of dark suits, red ties, and glossy black hair, it represents a devaluation of the individual in favor of the party.  Jeremy Goldkorn explains, “China’s top leaders are also trying to play down their differences in order to emphasize the stability of the Communist Party.”  Steve Tsang, professor at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham further explains, “the Communist Party is one of the most disciplined institutions ever devised by humankind.  Not a lot at that level happens purely by accident.”

By CheRima Manayan

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