Under shady trees, along the alleys in some parts of Beijing, you will find the neighbourhood barber, complete with the tools of his trade: a simple chair, a box for his clippers and a bucket of water. The click-click of the manual trimmer blends with the rustling of leaves in the gentle breeze. His clients enjoy the no-frills service, rounded off with a hearty compliment: 'Now you look 10 years younger!' The charge - a mere three yuan - is easy on the wallet. Mr Hou is not a native of the city, but he has been an itinerant barber here for more than 10 years. The work suits him just fine, enjoying, as he does, the freedom of not being tied to one place. His clients are not demanding. Most ask for just a crew cut or a shaved head. Once, on a house call, he had to shave a dead man - an experience he did not particularly enjoy. He keeps his clients entertained with story-telling, so they will return again and again. Most of his stories are true, he claims, adding with a chuckle that some are not for polite company. Soon, our conversation turns to the preferred hair styles of Chinese leaders. Mr Hou liked Mao Zedong's haircut, which, he said, fit his square face. '[It was] one of a kind. No one ever tries to copy that.' He is not so keen about the uniformly slick look of the current leaders. 'They look like actors on stage; not natural,' he said. He volunteered a story about Premier Wen Jiabao's hair colour, which he says he heard from a client whose relative worked in the State Council. To groom the nation's top leaders, a team of barbers is selected for a limited tenure. They must pass the strictest security checks, because wielding a blade so close to China's leaders is considered a national security issue. All nine Standing Committee members of the Communist Party have their hair cut and dyed by those barbers. After becoming premier, Mr Wen cancelled his appointment to have his hair dyed, so the story goes. He wanted to show his true colour, and let people judge him by his performance rather than the tint of his hair. His staff tried to change his mind, reminding him that without hair dye, his grey strands would stand out from the jet-black hair of his peers. Always an obliging team player, Mr Wen compromised. His allowed his hair to be dyed black, but insisted his sideburns be left natural. Despite trying in vain to detect the different shades of Mr Wen's hair in person and on TV, I cannot vouch for this account. However, I imagine that a story like this gets around because, with his unassuming manner, Mr Wen is well-liked - a real people's premier.