No One in Beijing Can Cut Hair

Yeah, I’ve had exactly two experiences whereby hair was removed from my head in Beijing, and both were less than satisfactory. So I feel complete confidence in making this huge generalization: no one in Beijing can cut hair.

The first time was when I was doing the tourist thing with my parents over the summer. I decided to try to get a shave from a barber shop rather than do it myself. Big mistake. I should have been clued in by the hesitation when they replied that “yes, they can give me a shave.” Maybe it was my morbid sense of curiosity as to how well they could do it. (Not well, as it turns out.)

They knew it involved a hot wet towel, some form of lubricant, and a razor. (Yes, a new, clean razor.) They didn’t use shaving cream, so I think it was some form of lotion (or maybe hair gel… ha). The shave was kind of painful and took waayyy too long. They didn’t have chairs that reclined to the right angle, so one of the barber shop guys’ job was to hold my head during the shave. (That must have been tiring… I have a big head, and it’s relatively full of stuff.)

Anyway, it took over 40 minutes, and I was left with a shave that looked OK, but was clearly a bad shave if you touched my face.

Last Thursday night in Beijing I decided to shave my head. I had been attempting to grow my hair out a bit, but I was getting tired of it, and I also came to the startling revelation that I am not a hippie. So Frank Yu and I ended up in a tattoo/piercing parlor at midnight, where the guys said that shaving my head was no problem.

Photo by sandyland on Flickr

The thing is, their electric razor choked and cut off about 2/3 of the way through shaving my head. The front was still long. They got the razor working again, just long enough to give me the traditional Chinese little kid haircut, and then it quit again. (I like to think it was my thick, manly shock of hair that choked the feeble device, but realistically I think they just didn’t charge it well enough.)

Anyway, what should have been the simplest haircut ever ended up taking over an hour as they struggled to get the electric razor working. In the end, the barber had to finish the job with scissors.

So, after living a lie on this blog for over a year, probably, my haircut once again matches the one in the picture at the upper right corner of Sinosplice.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I’ve had just the opposite experience – only in Beijing can I get a decent haircut. My last two haircuts were exactly what I wanted – admittedly the great style grew out after about two weeks – just the opposite of a bad haircut, I suppose. Maybe it’s becasue the Beijing coiffeurs actually listen to what i want and do what I ask.
    I recently paid $70 to some trendy place in Sydney and came out looking [as I always do after a cheap haircut) like one of the Jam in their early period.
    I could do without the massage and towels though.

  2. LOL. There must be a five star salon that does proper old school barber shaves. The one I got in Kobe, Japan, changed the way I look at life!

  3. I hope that you got the haircut AFTER your scheduled meeting.

  4. haha, i’m sure it’s ok if you go to a rather good place.
    i usually go to wenfeng to cut my hair for 10kuai , and as you see………i still look good hehe

  5. My wife does a pretty good job cutting my hair. And back in the days when I actually paid for haircuts, more often than not I’d just find myself a road-side barber, and only once did I have reason to complain. So, sorry, John, but your just going to the wrong places for your haircuts.

  6. Chris,

    Yeah, the wrong place… Beijing! 🙂

  7. I am sure U were in worry place to get haircut . anyway ,How much did it cost ? 10RMB?
    Normally in a fashion place ,the barbers they must be good to give u a nice haircut . I believe that .hehe


  8. I tend to concur with Chris. Here in Hangzhou I used to get decent cuts at little places for 5 kuai, but since most of those places have disappeared in the past 5 or so years, I have to go to these over-decorated, over staffed, over hyped and over paid places that have popped everywhere. Now, even though I pay between 30 – 50 kuai each time, the cuts rarely compare to the 5 kuai ones years ago.

  9. It’s pretty difficult to find a place that cuts black hair the same way that you would get in the states.

  10. The haircut cost me a ridiculous 30 RMB.

    I get a better haircut in Shanghai for 20, and it includes shampoo and rinse and shoulder massage.

    Maybe they charged 30 because it was so late? Or because they were actually a tattoo parlor? Dunno…

  11. John: I had a similar experience last week at my neighborhood barber shop in Shanghai. I got a decent haircut (read: give it a few days and it’ll look fine), but I’d lost my toiletry kit a few days earlier and had some growth going on, and I figured what the hell, may as well get a barbershop shave. I got the hot towel and the fresh razor, but not much beyond that. I left with my face burning and bleeding from at least a half-dozen places, vowing to do the sane thing and go out and buy another Mach 3.

  12. James,

    Oh, I love the Mach 3. I waited waaayyy too long to get my Mach 3.

  13. hmmm… a frank yu in beijing took me to a great hair salon (he said all the korean students get there haircut there… the logic being that the korean students are all trendy, i guess….). i had a great haircut, cheap… haven’t found a place i like in the states at any price… so that was the last haircut i was really happy with. as for the earlier response about barbershops in kobe japan… i love getting my hair cut in japan for the massage and general pampering- but it’s not cheap and they never cut my hair in a way that looks particularly good. so, for the record, i think someone in beijing can cut (long, wavy) hair quite well.

  14. Had to laugh at the image of you looking like one of the Jam! Have had a barber shop in Neutral Bay (Lawsons Men’s Hairdressing) , just outside the CBD in Sydney for the past nine years and can guarantee you wouldn’t leave looking like an 80s musician unless you wanted to.
    Check us out when you’re next in town!

  15. I just saw an introduction to the movie 剃头匠 on TV, which made me think of this post. From the movie, it looks like there used to be some good old fashioned shaving in Beijing (and that includes shaving your whole head!), but it has all but died out.

  16. i have my favorite hair dresser in vajra hair salon beijing. his name is joey, from hongkong, but speaks very good english. he used to work for a hair salon in england. i am very pleased with him. i really think he is much better than my hair dresser in germany. i would recommed him and his hair salon.
    I just walked in for my cut, but you can make an appointment by calling (8610) 65516461-1

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