1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

Hair Today...

Don't worry it's Dragon Proof

Xuchang!  The final stop on a nine day tour that began on June 3rd in Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province.  From there I flew to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, for a three-night stay.  On Monday, I flew to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, before travelling three hours by road to the prefecture-level city of Mianyang.  Then, back to Chengdu for yesterday’s flight to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, from where I travelled directly from the airport to the prefecture-level city of Xuchang.

  I must admit that when I saw Xuchang on my travel itinerary, I raised an eyebrow.  “Where’s that,” I asked.  The person I asked wasn’t sure.  “It’s in Henan province… or, then again, it might be in Hunan,” was the reply.  Their uncertainty made me feel a little better about having no idea which province it was in.

  Before I go anywhere “new”, I usually spend quite a while learning as much as I can about the place I’m planning to go to.  However, on this occasion, other than working out that Xuchang is “not far from Zhengzhou”, in Henan province, I simply didn’t have time to find out more.

  So, I’m embarrassed to admit, I arrived in the city without knowing the first thing about the city. In these situations it pays to go for a walk and to find some local people to talk to.  I met Mr Ma, who was selling fruit near to the hotel I was staying at.

  “Hi, I’ve just arrived in the city,” I said, “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind telling me something about the place?” Mr Ma looked at me as if I had just stepped out of a spaceship.  I tried a different approach: “What’s Xuchang famous for?” I asked.

  “Xuchang,” used to be an ancient capital,” said Mr Ma without any hint of pride.

  “Great,” I said.  “Where can I see the ancient sites,” I enquired.

  “There aren’t any,” said Mr Ma.  He shook his head.  “No, not a thing.”

  [On returning to Beijing I would find out that in 220AD Xuchang was declared the capital of the newly-formed “kingdom” of Wei, one of the Three Kingdoms, which were each ruled by an emperor who claimed to have the mandate of heaven (the right to rule) by dint of his superior lineage, connecting him to the last emperor of the deposed Han dynasty.  For some reason, after only a couple of years in Xuchang, the Wei emperor moved his court to Luoyang (also in modern day Henan) – which, unlike Xuchang, does have some excellent ancient sites to look around.  Oh yes, I also found out that modern day Xuchang has a population of 4.5 million. And that the city is twinned with Ambo in Ethiopia although, with due respect to the city of Ambo, that wasn’t the top of mind answer when I asked Xuchang people what their city is famous for.]

  I thanked Mr Ma for the information and moved into the backstreets of the older part of town to find out more.  A forty-something lady was sweeping the floor of her open-air restaurant.  I sat down to have a cup of tea, and to ask some questions.

  “Famous for?” Ms Chen repeated the question.  She said nothing for more than a few moments, while she pondered.  Then her eyes it up.

  “Well, my sister works in a hair factory, and I know that’s an important industry here.”

  “She makes hair?” I asked.  As soon as I asked it I realised what a stupid question it was.  Ms Chen was kind:

  “No, she makes wigs and hair pieces out of people’s hair.”

  “So people sell their hair here?” was my next stupid question.

  “Here and all over China,” Ms Chen said, doing her best not to laugh at my stupidity.

  I would later find out that the price of human hair in China has increased dramatically over the past few years (in 1990, people were paid 10 yuan for each kg, in 2007 the price had risen to 550 yuan per kg).  Locally-bought hair has become so expensive, in fact, that Xuchang and other Chinese hair product manufacturers are increasingly sourcing hair from other countries, such as India, where people are prepared to sell their hair for much less.

  My appetite whetted, I couldn’t wait to find out just how famous Xucheng-manufactured hair products really are.  I wasn’t disappointed.  In fact, I was amazed.  There are more than a hundred Xucheng companies that specialise in hair products that, collectively, employ more than 200,000 people.   I was equally amazed to find out that many of those companies have English language websites.

  Most of the companies’ names contain either product promises or women’s names. The range of promises includes “harmony” (Xuchang Harmony Hair Products); “elegance” (Xuchang Elegance Hair Products); “dream” (Xuchang Dream Hair Products); and “glitter” (Xuchang Glitter Hair Products).  While I’m sure that many people in need of a wig or hair extensions are looking for “elegance” or “harmony”, there must be those whose primary need is functionality and are simply looking for reassurance that the extensions won’t fall out, or their hair piece won’t slip down.  Enter Xuchang Dragon Proof Hair Products, which trades as Xuchang Dragon Proof Fashion Limited.  On its website, Dragon Proof describes itself as “One of the largest hair products manufacture[s] in China.”  Its impressive factory complex, which can be seen on the video that’s embedded on its website, occupies nearly 100,000 square metres of Xuchang’s Economic and Technological Development Zone.  The company boasts solus funding from Hong Kong investors, assets of 360 million yuan, and a payroll of close to 3,000 people.

  As far as companies with women’s names are concerned, there’s a bevy of them to pick from: There’s Xuchang Cindy Hair Products (not to be confused with the Xuchang Xindi Hair Product company); Xuchang Diana Hair Products; Xuchang Selina Hair Products; and Henan Rebecca Hair Products, which is based in Xuchang.

  Rebecca is by far the most famous of all the Xuchang-based hair product companies.  But why “Rebecca” you may be wondering.  Well, Zheng Youquan, who founded the company in 1993 was, it seems, a bit of a romantic.  He chose the name of the company, he says, after being beguiled by Rebecca, the eponymous heroine of a Daphne du Maurier’s novel.  Mr Zheng’s fascination with the name was such that he somehow even managed to get the name incorporated into his address (Rebecca Avenue, Xuchang).  The company also has a hotel in Xuchang.  The Rebecca Hotel of course.

  Rebecca, which employs 10,300 people, sold 1.6 billion yuan worth of hair products last year (using more than 2,000 tonnes of hair) is the only hair products’ company in China to be publicly listed. It is the world’s biggest wig maker with a 15 per cent share of global market.  Its export volume is twice that of its nearest Chinese competitor. 


  Last year, 61 per cent of its export sales were in North America, while sales to Europe only accounted for nine per cent of the volume.  The nature of global hair product demand is changing rapidly though. Sales are rising most rapidly in the African market where, this year’s contribution to global revenue is expected to exceed last year’s 26 per cent.  Thanks to the World Cup of course…


  ...I’ll be tuning in tonight to watch the opening match of the competition (South Africa versus Mexico), live from Johannesburg.  As well as watching the football, I’ll be keeping an eye out for one of Rebecca’s wigs, 20,000 of which – in the national colours of the 32 competing nations – have already been sold in South Africa.