Hello! If you don't mind, can you describe what hairstyles for men would've looked like in the past? I tried searching on Google images, but I keep getting modern hairstyles. Thank you in advance!
Hi, thanks for the question! I assume you’re referring to pre-Qing dynasty hairstyles for men.
I recommend reading Politics of Men’s Hair in Chinese History for historical context on Chinese men’s hairstyles. I gave a summary of the various types of men’s hair accessories in this post, and went into more detail on the “Guan” (formal headdress) in this post. I also have a men’s headwear tag you can check out.
I condensed the following information from Wikipedia:
In the past, both males and females would stop cutting their hair once they reached adulthood. As children they could cut and wear their hair however they wanted. However, once they reached the age of adulthood (20 for men and 15 for women), they underwent the Chinese coming-of-age ceremony (called Guan Li/冠礼 for men and Ji Li/笄礼 for women). They allowed their hair to grow long naturally until death, including facial hair.
This was due to Confucius’ teaching that “our bodies – to every hair and bit of skin – are received by us from our parents, and we must not…injure or wound them. This is the beginning of filial piety”. Below – cartoons depicting typical hairstyles of different ages:
Below – depiction of Guan Li (male coming-of-age ceremony). During the Guan Li, the man’s hair was combed into a bun and capped with a special headpiece:
When a man entered adulthood, he had to tie his long hair into a bun called Ji/髻 either on or behind his head and cover the bun up with different kinds of headdresses. Below – tutorial of how to create the bun:
A hair stick called Zan/簪 goes across the bun to stabilize the hair, like so:
From looking at the Terracotta Warriors, you can see that (at least during the Qin Dynasty) there were variations in the bun’s placement and shape, as well as different ways of braiding the hair:
The Chinese TV series Nirvana in Fire does a good job of portraying these distinctive braids:
Men would wear hats and headdresses over their hair, which often signified the wearer’s profession or social rank. Below – some of the many, many head-wear options for men:
Thus the ‘disheveled hair’, a common but erring depiction of ancient Chinese male figures seen in most modern Chinese period dramas or movies with hair hanging down from both sides and/or in the back, is historically inaccurate.
However, I won’t deny that this hairstyle can look very good – there’s a reason why it’s such a popular depiction nowadays 😛
Now some might wonder (as I did) why Jia Baoyu, the principal male character in the classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, is always depicted with ‘disheveled hair’, even in paintings and operas, if it’s historically inaccurate:
However, it makes sense if you consider that Jia Baoyu is an adolescent during the story. His hairstyle is used to indicate his status as a not-yet adult man.
While the Chinese male bun hairstyle, worn from the earliest times of Chinese history up to the end of the Ming dynasty, has all but disappeared from modern society, it is still worn as a regular hairstyle by one group of people: Taoist priests and practitioners. Below – modern-day Taoists:
Hope this helps!