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

Centuries after the Han Dynasty ended, Bu Yao entered the civilian 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 prevalent in China. 

Buyao Cultural Relics