One of the things that catches a western visitor's attention is all the heads of jet black, straight hair. My own curly brown locks bring never-ending stares among Han Chinese students. The hair of students from ethnic minorities sometimes have a little wave or curls. Hair dressings such as hairpins, bows, bands and bling are popular across all Chinese cultures and throughout Chinese history. Ann, an oral English student, gave an interesting presentation that I will share with you here. Then I'll add something I was told about how hairpins changed history.
"Hairpin is very common ornament in the ancient China. In recent years, the retro stuffs like clothes and ornaments are very popular among Chinese women. If you travel to some CHinese cities, you will find that some women use hairpin to bind their hair which looks beautiful.
"Way back in the Neolithic Age, women began to use jewelries like hairpins. In the feudal society, wearing a hairpin would symbolize a girl's coming of age. And a hair-pinning ceremony would e held to mark the occasion. In ancient times, a hairpin was also a symbol of personal dignity. Criminals were not allowed to wear hairpins. Hairpins and his clasps were basically similar to each other, but a hairpin was a one-strand fastener while a hair clasp was a two-strand one.
"In ancient China, the use of hairpins was a important part of the life of a girl in her life. There would commonly be a rite of passage when any girl reached fifteen years of age. Before fifteen they were just girls or children but at fifteen years old they could be treated as adults. This was called the Hairpin Initiation. Before the age of fifteen, girls did not use hairpins but rather wore their hair in braids. When they were over fifteen years old they were considered women and comes their hair into a bun, secured by hairpins. The symbolic meaning of this was that she could now enter into marriage. This is much earlier than the males in that who underwent a Hat Ceremony. Thus, hairpins played an important role in the rite of passage from child to woman. They were also connected closely with marriage. Hair has always been important in Chinese psychology. The Chinese had special name for a married couple which means the relationship between husband and wife is just like they tie their hair together. Clearly, the matrimonial ceremony always focused a great deal on the hair of the two sexes and hairpins played a very important role in the lives of women in classical Chinese society.
"Hairpins were often fashioned into flower shaped of gold, silver and jade, with two or more pins to attach them to the hair."
Here is a link showing remarkable examples of Chinese hairpin culture:
One of the stories students tell is how chopsticks came to be. Anciently, and even today in many cultures, the Chinese ate food directly with their fingers sans utensils of any kind. Legend tells that an ancient Chinese Emperor was impatient to eat his meal because it was so steaming hot. His quick-thinking Empress took 2 hairpins from her coif and gave them to him so he could eat his very hot food without burning his fingers. The rest is history….and a challenge to western diners today in China. Because I was pretty good using chopsticks to eat, I was occasionally asked how long I had been in China; since this skill takes quite a while to master. They assumed that my mastery meant I had been in China for a long time.