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Ancient Chinese Hairstyles Through the Years

Throughout ancient China, hairstyles depicted a person’s social status and health. Previously, in certain Chinese ceremonies, they also marked the coming of age of both men and women. 

Let’s dive in on how ancient Chinese hairstyles have evolved throughout China’s history:


Basic beliefs

According to Confucian values, particularly filial piety, everyone is required to let their hair grow as the hair is considered a gift from the parents. Having their hair cut was treated as a treacherous and serious offense against one’s parents, grandparents, and ancestors. 

Even prisoners and criminals were forced to have their hair cut as a form of punishment. According to Confucius, shaving one’s hair is completely erasing one’s personality.

During those times, people had to keep their hair clean to avoid getting it cut. That’s also why untidy hair was a sign of one’s irresponsibility in regard to health and hygiene. It represented dishonorable ways, illness, or depression. On the other hand, having long and shiny hair was a sign of one’s good health and was considered attractive.

This is why young girls in ancient China kept their hair down or with simple braids to signal that they were unmarried. Married women had more expressive and complex hairstyles by tradition, whereas widows sometimes shaved their heads to show indifference. 


Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD)

Chinese male hairstyles have changed only a few times in history. They kept their hair long in accordance with the Confucian view that long hair is a sign of virility. Cutting their hair was seen as barbaric and anti-social. From the Han dynasty to the Ming dynasty, men kept their hair wind up and bound at the top of their heads.

During this era, women became viewed as inferior to men and were given roles in the home setting. Thus, they wore their hair in loose buns with some untied hair hanging down their backs.


The hairstyle during the Han Dynasty. Photo courtesy of Kienthuc.


Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE)

The Tang Dynasty is cited as the greatest imperial dynasty and the golden age of cultural reform and advancement. Its prosperity gave women the opportunity to be freer. Tang women were then able to express themselves through styling their hair. They would arrange their hair in loops, or tie their hair up, above their heads. 

Tang Dynasty. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Ming Dynasty (1368 CE to 1644 CE) 

During this dynasty, Ming women liked to tie their hair in buns with hanging ornaments to adorn their hair.

Hairstyles of women during the Ming Dynasty.

Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Qing women started using bigger decorations in the back of their hair. Young ladies wore simple pins in their hair and had the thinnest décor. But when these girls were promoted to be concubines, queens, or even the empress, their hair décor increased in quantity and quality with luxurious hairpins. 

For Chinese brides during this time, their accessories were kept basic with chopsticks used to keep their hair intact unto the bun. The pins used were made out of pure jade, gold, and pearls. The typical Qing woman usually preferred low buns since it was the most popular style among brides at the time. Meanwhile, others preferred having their hair arranged in high buns and the complex braided updo. 

Hairstyles of women during the Qing Dynasty. Photo courtesy of Depts. Washington. Edu and CNN.

During this dynasty, the empire passed the “Queue Order” that mandated the men to tonsure the front parts of their heads as a sign of submission to the Manchurian authority who ruled over China. Men who left their hair short were executed as it was seen as treason.

But the tables were turned after the communist revolution when men began keeping their hair short in accordance with Western influence and standards. A tonsured head was then depicted as “loyalty to the previous Qing dynasty,” which was considered a threat to the communist regime at the time.

Qing Dynasty Hairstyle for Men. Photo courtesy of Min News.

Want some more modern hairstyles? Check out some hairstyles Chinoys should try this 2021 over here.

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