The eight-part drama-documentary Oh, My Hair (or Turan Fasheng in its local title) begins with an arresting image – 30 newborn mice pickled in a jar of Chinese liquor.
The narrator then explains that the folk remedy is regarded as a cure for baldness.
“Would you dare to drink it? Even if you think it is absurd, many still believe in it,” the woman expounds.
The premise of Oh, My Hair is that hair loss is a serious issue in China, despite the fact that east Asian men have some of the lowest rates of baldness worldwide.
The condition can still be traumatic for those that suffer from it, of course, especially in early-onset situations. One man in the show also explains how it is already hard enough to find a wife in China (see prior issues of WiC for more on the gender imbalance and its impact on the marriage market) and that losing your hair at an early age reduces your chances even further, for instance.
Others say their confidence has been dented because a fuller head of hair is associated with success. “It’s a vicious cycle: you need a good head of hair to get a girlfriend but worrying about not having a girlfriend makes you lose more of your hair,” another of the young men in the show explains of his battle against a thinning hairline.
Others cry on camera or shout at the “injustice” of balding from a younger age.
The format focuses on male baldness simply because the show’s anchor, veteran journalist Hu Runfeng, is deeply concerned about his own thinning thatch and how it looks on TV. “It’s all about my credibility,” he says repeatedly.
Hu’s mission is to unpack why a lustrous head of hair is so important to Chinese men and then to explore the advice on how best to achieve one (natural remedies, modern medicine, hair transplants and wigs all feature).
Various studies have reported that Chinese men (along with the Koreans and Japanese) lose less hair than other ethnicities and start to thin much later. In one piece of research as few as 14% of Chinese men report hair loss by middle age compared to more than 40% in places like Germany and the Czech Republic.
Yet there are reasons to believe that hair loss is accelerating in China, especially among younger people. Stress, poor eating habits, smoking and longer working hours are thought to be contributing factors. In 2019, about 250 million people in China were said to be suffering from hair loss, of which about 65% were men with the majority younger than 30, according to data from the National Health Commission cited by ThePaper.cn.
In March online insurance company Zhong An launched a new policy for people who think they will need restorative treatment in future. That could be a good decision: iiMedia Research reports that China’s hair transplant market surged from Rmb5.7 billion ($845.6 million) in revenues in 2016 to about Rmb20 billion in 2020.
So what of Hu Runfeng and his quest for fuller follicles? After sitting in on hair transplants and wig-making sessions, Hu ultimately does nothing. It’s not clear that he has fully accepted his failing fringe, but he has made others understand the pain that he and other balding men are feeling.
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