The Politics of China's Noodle-Shaving Robots

"This Japanese hero is only fit to shave noodles here in China."

The shift in the manual labor supply in China has created some interesting innovations in filling positions that used to be filled by fleshy humans. Cui Runquan, a Beijing-based Chinese restaurateur specializing in noodles, noticed that young people are increasingly less willing to work in dirty, exhausting food industry jobs. Thus he invented a noodle-shaving robot to replace its more fickle and exhaustible biological counterpart. The robot is capable of shaving enough noodles for three bowls in one minute, and the noodle's width and thickness can be adjusted to a customer's preferences.

Although the robot didn't have to look like anything, Cui decided to give it a face: that of the beloved Japanese superhero Ultraman -- perhaps because Cui wanted to humanize the robots to make them appear friendlier to their customers. Ultraman, a Japanese television series that premiered in 1966, depicts a humanoid space creature with two large eyes who defends Japan from monster attacks. Ultraman has been shown in China since the 1990s, and Chinese Weibo even has a specific emoticon for him:


Although Ultraman hasn't always been popular with China's political party leaders, most reactions on China's microblogging sites have been positive.

Some Chinese netizens weigh in on their new noodle-making hero:

浪漫的唯忻主义 is impressed with the noodle-shaving prowess of these robots, saying, "I've tried these noodles. They're thinner than ordinary noodles, so thin that they can only be eaten with a spoon."

悠然小语C welcomes the robots, stating, "I went to eat there a couple of days ago. The noodles were very uniform in shape, and the robot's face was very amusing. Altogether it made the wait for my food feel much shorter."

MelvinOO7 jokes, "Haha, this Japanese hero is only fit to shave noodles here in China."

Despite the angry demeanor of these noodle-bots, it seems the Chinese people have taken a liking to them. Could this be the start of a new trend in China, in which the likenesses of other beloved heroes will be used to create robots designed to take less desirable jobs? I'm personally hoping for Doraemon street-sweeper bots.

This article originally appeared at Asia Society, an Atlantic partner site.