The history behind not cutting your hair during Lunar New Year

I’ve always wondered if the act of raising prices at the neighbourhood barbershop two weeks before the Lunar New Year had anything to do other then being a business strategy that capitalises on the many superstitious Chinese in Singapore, with many believing that cutting your hair during the Lunar New Year is not just bad luck but is even thought that doing so would cause the death of your maternal uncle.

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Superstitions aside, the act of not cutting one’s hair does indeed have a dark rebellious history behind it, tracing all the way to rule of the Qing Dynasty and a particular incident in 1645 known as the ‘hair-cutting order’ laid down by Dorgon or 多爾袞.

As a sign of submission to the Manchu rule, all Han Chinese who made the bulk of the previous ruling Ming Dynasty were required to wear their hair in the traditional Machu style, which required shaving the front of their heads and combing the remaining hair into a queue. To many adults at this time, the act of head-shaving was perceived as an insult against the traditional full set of hair that represented the virility and even wealth of a man.

Basically the Machus laid an ultimatum to the Han Chinese, Your Hair or Your Life  (留头不留发,留发不留头).


The queue involved shaving the front of one’s head and combing the rest into a tail/braid


In movies such as Once Upon a Time in China starring Jet Li, the queue was a symbolic representation of the Chinese

Barbers during this ‘hair-cutting order’ would also allegedly carry the severed heads of non-compliers on bamboo poles during this time, resulting in many mixed of emotions of both fear and the need for a an uprising that resulted in many a death till the late 1640s.

Interestingly enough, the queue would go on to become both a symbol of Chinese pride in the dying years of the Qing’s Dynasty’s rule, and also a sign of rebellion from the 1890s onward before it became an intergral part of political revolution by 1911.

There has also been extensive researchsuch  as The End of the Queue: Hair as Symbol in Chinese History ‘ by Michael R.Godley that delves into the symbolic history of ‘hair’ in Chinese tradition and how it has stood to be both a sign of representation, rebellion and identity throughout the different dynasties.

So the next time you do get a hair cut during the Lunar New Year, do know that the act does indeed have some dark but important history behind it.


The evolution of traditional hairstyles in China


  1. Very Interesting! Thank you, I feel like I’ve learned something!

  2. Interesting…and it is good to know. I always heard that you should not cut your hair during the Lunar New Year, when I was younger and never really understood why.

    • nickyeo

      Me too, even i thought the queue itself was a always only a symbol of chinese pride, never knew that some opposed to it from the beginning.

  3. msj

    The traditional Chinese men’s topknot looked cool. Too bad it was replaced by the pigtail which is now stereotyped as traditional Chinese. Ironically, the topknot is now trendy among western males. Maybe the trend will go back to China.

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