Running the world’s second-largest economy and a nation of 1.3 billion people can take its toll on a man. The stresses of rooting out corruption, battling pollution, closing a growing economic wealth gap and managing the foreign relations of a budding global power with nuclear weapons would make any leader’s hair go gray. But not in China.
The BBC recently noted that China’s "Select Seven," the members of the Politburo Standing Committee with an average age of 63, all sport the same look: “Dark suits, red ties and identical helmets of jet black hair.”
Former Premier Zhu Rongji, who was also at the nation’s annual parliamentary session that opened last week, appeared noticeably different from his uniform-looking colleagues: He was rocking a full head of gray. Even posters on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, picked up on the stark contrast.
“Take a look at the podium for the Party Congress, it’s all people dyeing their hair and pretending to look young,” one user was quoted. “Officials at a certain rank all have standardized black hair,” one blogger added. “If you think carefully, how can everyone look so youthful?”
Many praised Zhu for taking the more natural route, even if it did age him. “Zhu’s hair is so natural. If you are old, you are old,” one user reasoned.
So what’s the point of keeping up appearances? Leaders from other countries do not seem to bother with keeping their hair a certain color. In fact, the Washington Post even had interactive photos of several American presidents, looking at how much they have aged and grayed over their terms.
But even if China’s ageless leaders aren't fooling anyone, there's a purpose behind their well-kept coifs. “The Communist Party is one of the most disciplined institutions ever devised by humankind. Not a lot at that level happens purely by accident,” said Steve Tsang, a professor at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham in England, quoted in the BBC story.
According to Tsang, this helps project an ideal of a uniform nation and “show that the party is not dependent on any single personality, it’s an institution. They’ve tried to devalue the individual in favor of the party.”
Any hairdresser at a salon knows that preserving dyed hair takes a lot of maintenance and money. The BBC report said a politician would have to be touched up every 10 days in order to keep a consistent look.
As President-elect Xi Jinping gets ready to step into office, he has already enacted several new policies, including the cutting of government spending on non-necessities. After budget cuts on banquet spending, floral arrangements, and alcohol consumption, the party's hair-dye budget may remain untouched.