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Reporters on the Job

Hunting China's Heroes : Journalists are often asked where they get their story ideas. Today's story about the "Barber of Houhai" (page 1) emerged from a discussion staff writer Robert Marquand had recently with some friends. He wanted to do a story that illustrated some element of the Chinese character, perhaps similar to a story he had written a few years ago about ballroom dancing in a Beijing park during the winter. Bob's friend remembered a documentary film made in 2001 about a man in his 80s who went out in the dead of winter on his bicycle to give haircuts to shut-ins.

Bob tracked down the filmmakers, who at first weren't too interested in helping him. "When they realized I wasn't looking for a senior citizen to write about, but I appreciated that Jing Qui was much more than a barber, they helped me track him down," says Bob.

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In October 2003, when China put its first man in space, Bob wrote a Monitor story titled "A hero returns to a land without heroes." But Bob says the headline wasn't quite accurate. "China is a culture with few public heroes, but there are a lot of private heroes," he says.

He remembers the response of Zhang Yimou, the Chinese director of the 2003 martial arts movie "Hero." Bob asked him who he considered a hero: "My heroes are local people," he said.

That's what Bob sees in the Barber of Houhai. "You'll find these private heroes in local neighborhoods - be it Beijing or Boston."

Did Bob ask this hero for a haircut?

Well, no. Mr. Jing only offers two styles of pruning: the shaved head or buzz cut. Neither is Bob's preferred coif. And Bob has a beard. "I was a little concerned that if I asked, he might cut it all off," he says.

David Clark Scott
World editor