At the Cutting Edge of the City: Male Migrant Hairdressers in Shanghai

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This article examines the emerging service industry in Shanghai through the prism of young male migrant hairdressers and their even younger assistants. These "cosmopolitan" service workers are framed within Lisa Rofel's concept of "desiring China" in order to show how the service industry in Shanghai is a kind of "Goffmanian world", in that the hairdresser must present and "sell" himself in particular ways on the "front-stage" of the market-driven service industry. By examining both the "impression management" and "emotional labour" of the hairdresser, I argue that not only are we able to observe China's opening up policy as it is embodied in the service worker, but we are also able to observe on the salon floor hierarchical and power labour relations at work and the emergence of a commodity-style subject. These young male migrant service workers are framed as a kind of complement, or extension, of the young female migrant industrial workers studied by Pun Ngai in her book Made in China. By comparing and contrasting the "Chinese working daughters" of the factory regime with the "Chinese working sons" of the service regime we are able to observe Shanghai's structural shift from an industrial production centre to a service-based world city.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-407
Number of pages17
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • China
  • commodification
  • cosmopolitanism
  • emotional labour
  • hairdressing
  • service industry
  • Shanghai


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