On Ai Weiwei as Barber

I mentioned two days ago that I had encountered famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (and famous Spanish/American chef Jose Andres) in the evening in Beijing. I didn't mention that a few minutes after the picture I used was taken, I had seen Ai Weiwei giving a highly stylized haircut to someone in the courtyard outside a restaurant.

I didn't talk to or recognize the man getting the haircut, but I see today that it was Anthony Tao of the Beijing Cream site. He has posted a charming blog account of the whole event, complete with video of the haircut and before-and-after photos:


The video shows a rich interaction among Ai Weiwei, Jose Andres, the haircut subject Anthony Tao, and the crowd of onlookers (which for about half a second includes me in the background). I mention this as a followup and also because it has a very nice appreciation of Ai Weiwei's current role in China. Sample:
Ai Weiwei, oversized personality that he is, must understand the cult and farce of celebrity and those who would fawn in the face of it. At the risk of reading way too much into this, perhaps that's the wry, mischievous reasoning behind his deliberately woeful haircuts: because he knows you -- you - will appreciate it, since it came from him. It's why you'll wear it for a day, a week, a month after the fact, looking ridiculous because no one else understands the context. You know, however. You got a haircut from Ai Weiwei.

The past week in China has been as packed and enlightening as any comparable span I've spent anywhere, but since I have to get up in a few hours for a very early-morning (China time) muster, I will wait until tomorrow to begin a description.

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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