Hong Kong’s prison bosses learn what happens when you mess with a man and his hair

Yonden Lhatoo highlights a radical lawmaker’s run-in with the city’s prison authorities over a forced haircut and the policy implications of his unlikely court victory

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 4:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2017, 8:05pm

Hong Kong’s aged original Young Turk, lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, is back in the headlines after a long quest for relevance. He now wants to take a crack at the city’s leadership election and run for chief executive as a candidate from the pan-democratic camp.

He doesn’t have an ice lolly’s chance in an overheated oven of winning, and nobody really takes him that seriously these days. The novelty of his trademark unkempt locks and Che Guevara T-shirts has long passed its sell-by date, and a younger, fresher breed of anti-establishment firebrands in politics regularly steal his fading limelight.

Watch: Leung Kwok-hung enters the chief executive race

Long Hair for chief executive? Pull the other one

But the man better known as “Long Hair” made an unexpected impact on Hong Kong’s prison policy recently when the High Court ruled in his favour that a forced haircut during his brief incarceration in 2014 over a rowdy protest was unlawful. The judge bought Long Hair’s argument about the unfairness of subjecting all male prisoners to head shearing, while sparing their female counterparts the indignity. It constituted sexual discrimination under our Basic Law.

The novelty of his trademark locks and Che Guevara T-shirts has passed its sell-by date

The Correctional Services Department has until June 1 to comply with the ruling and put an end to this asymmetrical treatment of inmates. One option is to draw an equal line with haircuts for all 1,800 female inmates currently in lock-up. They’re said to be a little miffed about the prospect of losing their hair, understandably, while the man responsible gets to grow his on the outside like a Lhasa apso.

Here, I must digress to caution Long Hair against upsetting an entire demographic of women over something they take so personally. I’m speaking from experience: nearly a year after I made unflattering remarks about Canto-pop star Leon Lai’s singing, I still haven’t stopped getting hate mail from his female fans; and I’m still half-expecting to get clocked in the back of the head some day by some auntie with her swinging handbag.

A source told the Post that compulsory haircuts for women behind bars might provoke “unimaginable consequences”.

Women in Hong Kong prisons may be forced to cut hair short

“We understand hairstyles can change women and have a huge impact on them, especially on their emotions,” the source explained. “You can’t imagine what would happen if all 1,300 inmates staged mass indisciplinary action at the Lo Wu female correctional institution over such a decision.” Yes, I can’t.

To be fair to the hero of this story, the official justification for the forced haircut was rather ridiculous: it was a “preventive operational measure” to reduce risks such as the vulnerability of long-haired prisoners when under attack by fellow inmates.

Really? Last I checked, women were far more likely than men to yank each other’s hair out in a fight. Long-haired guys would avoid doing the same out of shame.

It is also easier to understand Long Hair’s gripe from the perspective of ageing males getting possessive about their hair. For so many follicularly challenged men, it can be a matter of utmost importance to hold on to the last little tufts, or maintain the most elaborate comb-overs.

They could all take heart from a research finding that bald men are perceived as more successful and dominant than hairy-headed males. Subjects in a study saw men with shaved heads as being bigger, stronger and more masculine. Keep in mind, though, that it had to be chrome-dome bald; pattern baldness or those aforementioned tufts and comb-overs didn’t cut it.

Looking at Hong Kong’s leadership election in that context, we now have a male contender with past-shoulder-length hair, one who’s shining bald and one with a massive moustache, along with two iron ladies sporting shortish haircuts. May the best man win.

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post