Hair! A Chinese Story

No, this is not Emmanuelle Riva in Hiroshima Mon Amour.  This is a woman from today's China (specifically, from the Beiyun District of Guangzhou).  She is not making a fashion statement either.  So what is the story?

According to Nanfang Daily, a member of the local civilian security patrol (note: this is not the police) said that there have been " female street standees" (站街女) luring men to their apartments for illicit sex acts.  Sometimes, the clients are robbed by men who lie in waiting.  The victims have been either reluctant to report to the police, or else such cases are difficult to prove.  As a result, local residents are unhappy about the deterioration of public safety due to the influx of "female street standees."

The female in the photo is a certain Ms. Liu.  On May 7, 2005, Ms. Liu wore a white hat and light make-up and came to this newspaper's office in the company of a friend.  When she took off her hat, she had a nearly totally bald head with just a strand of hair about 10 centimeters long at the back.  Ms. Liu said in tears, "My long hair, which I have had for twenty-five years, was shaved off by the security patrol members."

According to Ms. Liu, on May 4, she quit her job and then rented an apartment in a backstreet in the Beiyun District.  At around 8pm on May 5, she ran into a former co-worker Mr. Lee in the neighborhood, and she invited him to visit her home.  They went back to the apartment, and sat down to chat.  Shortly afterwards, someone knocked on the door.  She opened the door and it was a group of security patrol members carrying steel batons.  They suspected Ms. Liu of prostitution.  Since she could not produce any temporary resident permit or personal identification, the two were brought back to the station.

Ms. Liu said that she was then brought out to the stairwell on the outside.  Someone then covered her eyes with an old and ragged towel.  She was then held face down on the ground by the neck, shoulders and arms and she could not move.  Her long hair was tied up in bun on the top of her head, but she felt someone cutting her hair with scissors.  This went on for a while,  and then they pulled her up and took her back in a room.  She was made to sit down and then someone began to apply an electric razor to what remained of her hair.  She cried, but nobody responded.  She did hear some laughter.  Afterwards, they shoved her out into the streets.

The reporter wanted Ms. Liu to provide information on how to contact her co-worker Mr. Li.  She was unable to do so, and also said that she has not seen him since.  Ms. Liu also admitted to giving a false name to the security patrol.  But she insisted that she did not commit any crime; and even if she did, it should be a police matter and they should not have shaved her long hair.

The reporter went to talk to the security patrol.  They said that they received a report about a case of  prostitution-related robbery and proceeded to the location; when they got there, there was a man who had already showered in addition to a female.  They took the two back to the office, interrogated them but released them due to lack of evidence.  The security patrol said that some irate citizens charged into their office and administered vigilante justice by shaving the woman's hair.

My real question is this: Do you think that the man's hair was shaved. or did anything untoward happen to him?  Most probably not.  Why not?  You can read in the usual feminist theories about male chauvinism.  More practically, the act of shaving a woman's hair leaves a mark of shame and prevents her from 'working' in the near future.

And what about the idea of vigilante justice?  Once upon a time in New York City, my Lexington Avenue neighborhood was also plagued by "female street standees."  Where was the police?  Prostitution was a misdemeanor whereby an arrestee could be out the same night after posting US$100 in bail and be back in business immediately.  At night, the taxi drivers would warn their passengers, "Roll the windows up, because the hookers will reach in the window to grab your testicles if we have to stop at a red traffic light!"  What did the local residents do?  They formed a neighborhood watch group, and dozens of them would be out on the street each night armed with nothing more than video cameras.  They would stand on the other side of the street.  When a prospective customer comes by in a car, they would start chanting "We're taking down your license number!" and they would start rolling the film.  This scared the prospective customers away.  It was a non-violent method, but it required people to invest a great deal of personal time.