top of page

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

Importance of Hair in Ancient Chinese Culture

In ancient Chinese culture, hair was considered an important body part; 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, representing a turning point of becoming an adult ready to take on specific responsibilities. 

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

In the former Polygamy society, only one’s wife was qualified to have this Bind Up 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. 

Women's Headdress and Hairstyle of the Ming Dynasty

Women's Headdress and Hairstyle of the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644) in the painting "Beautiful Ladies" by artist Qiu Ying (about 1498 — 1552).

Chinese Hairpin — Zan

 

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 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, also used to fasten and tie hair.

 

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

 

Chai is frequently mentioned in poems and articles as 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 piece 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 — Buyao Hairpin

 

Buyao hairpin became popular in the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD) when it was only allowed to be worn by noblewomen in the royal family. 

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

It looks like a hairpin Zan, but with pendants or fringes, which would swing when someone is wearing it and walking.

 

Buyao, the Step Shake, was named because of it. 

Centuries after the Han Dynasty ended, Buyao entered the civilian world. 

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

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

Buyao Cultural Relics

Headwear for Men — Guan

Guan was a common headwear for men in history, featuring different types that indicated people's social status. 

In ancient times, when a man turned 20, he would start wearing Guan as part of the Coming of Age ceremony.

 

After having one’s hair bound up on top of the head, a Guan (a common one named 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. 

Chinese Comb — Shubi

Shubi 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 could be used to make Shubi. 

In traditional Chinese Medicine, combing hair is an efficient way to keep healthy; it is believed to massage nerves and stimulate blood circulation.

 

Meanwhile, different hair quality and body conditions are suggested to use combs made of other 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 Shubi on their hair as decoration. 

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

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

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

In the Ming Dynasty (1368 — 1644), it was famous 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 represented elegance and social status.

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