Tradition of China — Hair Ornament Culture

Importance of Hair in Ancient Chinese Culture

In ancient Chinese culture, hair was considered as 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 Traditional Chinese Wedding, to tie 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 of commitment. 

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 hairpin 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.  

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, for being an important symbol and a Keepsake of Love in Chinese Culture.

 

In Chinese tradition, when a couple had to separate for a while, women 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 Sui Dynasty (589 — 619) — National Museum of China (By Dongmaiying)

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 was 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. 

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 bind 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 the hair and have a braid, Guan (Shu Fa), and Coming of Age Ceremony came to an end. 

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

Comb — Shu Bi

Shu Bi, originated in about 6000 years ago, 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 on combs. 

Nowadays, Chinese women generally don’t wear it as a hair ornament. But, combing hair to massage 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. 

On important occasions, having one’s buns well decorated using the whole package was the representative of elegance and social status.

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

 

Lotus Crown — Lian Hua Guan

Lotus Crown was originally from Taoism Religion, which was only worn by the most powerful and talented masters.

Since the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), when Taoism was respected as the national religion, the Lotus Crown became popular among women of both noble and civilian families.

Generally, the Lotus Crown worn by women looked like a lotus, but was a little bit different from the Taoists’.

Phoenix Crown — Feng Guan

Phoenix Crown was only allowed to wear by queens in ancient Chinese history. 

It was shaped like dragons and phoenixes and decorated with hundreds of precious gems and valuable pearls. Chinese Empresses would wear it on important occasions.

Gradually, noble ladies also allowed to wear Phoenix Crowns, but still followed strict standards in regard to size, the material of the crowns, and the numbers and shapes of phoenixes and dragons on them. 

Then, civilian women could wear a Phoenix Crown on their wedding day once, though their crowns were usually made of less luxurious materials and simpler designs. 

Today, some brides in China still wear a Phoenix Crown on their wedding day, if they choose to wear a traditional Chinese wedding dress instead of a white bridal gown.

Phoenix Crown of the Sui Dynasty (589 — 619), Unearthed from Mausoleum of Emperor Yang Guang and His Queen Xiao — Yangzhou Museum (Photo by Xinshuiling)

Phoenix Crown of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), Unearthed from Mausoleum of Emperor Wanli and His Queen Xiaoduan — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Forehead Decoration — Hua Sheng

 

Hua Sheng was documented since about 2000 years ago in the history of China, but the accurate origin is not clear.


It looks flower-shaped, usually was worn in one’s hair to cover part of the forehead, like an exquisite bang. 

Gilding Silver Hair Ornament of the Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) — Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Forehead Decoration — Mo E

Mo E, a strand of fur or fabric wore on one’s forehead to keep warm, originated in northern China. 

In the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC), Mo E was exclusively used in the army, as a means to organize and manage soldiers. 

A millennium later, more exquisite decorations and valuable materials were used to make Mo E. Around the same era, women started to wear it too. 

Centuries later, in the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), Mo E became popular among everyone, from royals to civilians; it can be used for keeping warm in winter or as pure decoration.  

Fabric, silk, gold, silver, fur, and yarn were all common materials of Mo E, while pearl, gem, jade, and embroidery were decorated on.

Referential of Excellent Women — Jin Guo

Jin Guo was a hair ornament that was made of fabric, and decorated with gold, gem, or jade.

Since the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD), Jin Guo was exclusively worn by women. 

Gradually, Jin Guo also refers to women. 

Today, women in China don’t wear it in their daily lives, but Jin Guo is still the referential of women, especially those smart and brave ones.

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