Hair Ornaments Culture — Chinese Hairpins, Crowns, and Other Decorations

Elegant hair accessory Zan / Hairpin in Tradition of China

Importance of Hair in Ancient Chinese Culture

In ancient Chinese culture, hair was considered an important part of the body; it was given by parents and couldn’t be cut casually.

When a boy turned 20 or a girl turned 15, their parents would hold them a Coming of Age Ceremony, in which they would change their hairstyle and hair ornaments. This had been one of the grandest rites in one’s lifetime, which represented a turning point of becoming an adult who is ready to take certain responsibilities. 

In a Traditional Chinese Wedding, tying a strand of the new couple’s hair together was an important ceremony, meaning they would be connected forever.

In the former Polygamy society, only one’s wife was qualified to have this Bind Up of Hair Rite with her husband; other inferior concubines were not allowed to do so.


Therefore, in ancient Chinese history, cutting off a wisp of one’s hair and giving it to someone implied sincere love and willingness to commit. 

Hairpin — Zan in Chinese Culture


In the Neolithic era, Zan was used to fasten and tie hair. Since the disheveled hair was impolite and coarse in the ancient tradition of China.


Gradually, the use of hairpins became representative of being an adult.


When women turned 15 years old, there would be a Coming of Age Ceremony to put on hairpins and tie the hair up, meaning they were adults who were available for marriage. 


Zan could be made of different materials such as bone, stone, pottery, shell, bamboo, timber, horn, jade, copper, silver, or gold.


The end of the hairpin was usually decorated with beautiful flowers or lucky animals.


Zan Cultural Relics

Double Stringed Hairpin — Chai


Chai was a type of hair ornament that evolved from Zan, which was also used to fasten and tie hair.


But the most important difference is that Chai has two sticks, which look like two Zans connected together. 


Chai is frequently mentioned in poems and articles, as being an important symbol and a Keepsake of Love in Chinese Culture.


In Chinese tradition, when a couple had to separate for a while, the woman usually would split her Chai into two parts, and give one part to her beloved one as a keepsake, until they reunited someday. 

Jade Chai of the Sui Dynasty (589 — 619)

Jade Chai of Sui Dynasty (589 — 619) — National Museum of China (By Dongmaiying)

Gold Chai of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368)

Gold Chai of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368) — Wuhan Museum  (By Dongmaiying)

Step Shake — Bu Yao 


Bu Yao became popular in the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) when it was only allowed to wear by noblewomen in the royal family. 

As a representative of status, Bu Yao was made of gold, silver, jade, agate, and other valuable materials. 

It looks like hairpin Zan, but with pendants or fringes, which would swing when someone wearing it and walking. Bu Yao, the Step Shake, was named because of it. 

Centuries after the Han Dynasty ended, Bu Yao came into the civilians’ world. 

When all the women were allowed to wear the Bu Yao, more materials were included in making them.

Nowadays, hair ornaments with exquisite pendants or fringes are still popular in China. 

Buyao Cultural Relics

Hair Binding Decoration — Guan or Shu Fa

As for men, their hair ornaments were way simpler and easier. 

When one turned 20 years old, he would start to wear Guan (or Shu Fa)  in the Coming of Age ceremony.


After having one’s hair bound up on top of the head, a Guan (Shu Fa) was used to decorate the tied hair. 

Until the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912), the Manchu rulers forced men to shave half of their hair and have a braid, Guan (Shu Fa), and the Coming of Age Ceremony came to an end. 

Now, Chinese men keep short hair, so Guan stays in history for good. But the Coming of Age Ceremony has been recovered in many places. 

Comb — Shu Bi

Shu Bi originated about 6000 years ago and was an important hair ornament in the history of China. 

At first, it was used to comb and clean hair. Bone, ivory, bamboo, timber, horn, silver, gold, jade, compound metal, or crystal, all could be used to make Shu Bi. 

In traditional Chinese Medicine, the combing of hair is an efficient way to keep healthy; it is believed can massage nerves and stimulate blood circulation. Meanwhile, different hair quality and body conditions are suggested to use combs that are made of different materials. 

Therefore, both men and women would carry a comb, for convenience. 

During the Three Kingdoms, Jin, North, and South Dynasties (220 — 589), women started to put Shu Bi on their hair as a means of decoration. 

Therefore, more valuable materials were used, and more adornments were added to combs. 

Nowadays, Chinese women generally don’t wear it as a hair ornament. But, combing hair to massage the scalp is still widely used as a means of keeping healthy.

Hair Decorations in Different Positions — Yan Bin, Ding  Zan, Tiao Xin, Fen Xin

In the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), it was popular for women to use exquisite hair ornaments in different positions in buns. 

Hair ornament Yan Bin
Hair ornament Yan Bin
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Hair ornament Ding Zan
Hair ornament Ding Zan
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Hair ornament Tiao Xin
Hair ornament Tiao Xin
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Hair ornament Fen Xin
Hair ornament Fen Xin
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On important occasions, having one’s buns well decorated using the whole package was representative of elegance and social status.

Here are some exquisite unearthed hair decorations of the Ming Dynasty: