Women's Hair Ornaments and Their Social Connotations in Old China (down)

Hair ornaments worn by women of wealth also took the form of gold flowers encrusted with jewels depicting flowers or animals.

The elaborate "buyao" hairpin was an exquisite hair ornament denoting noble status, which was often be encrusted with jewels and featuring carved designs, the main feature of a "buyao" was its pendants that flatteringly framed the wearer's face and "danced" as she moved, hence the name buyao, which literally means "shake as you go". This ornament was generally made of of gold in the shape of a phoenix or dragon and adorned with pearls and jade.

Among popular decorative patterns used on women's hair ornaments in old China were auspicious birds and beasts, such as the dragon, phoenix, crane, deer and the 12 animals of the Chinese "zodiac." The deer was considered a propitious animal because its pronunciation in Chinese is the same as that for six, which implies success. Hairpins in the design of a mandarin duck denoted married bliss. Patterns of flowers and fruit-bearing trees featured the peony, lotus flower, plum, guava and asphodel. The five petals on a plum represent blessings, high-salary, longevity, luck and wealth.

Designs of women's hair ornament in old China always depicts auspicious objects, among them there are musical instruments, chess pieces, calligraphic characters, and the "four treasures in a scholar's studio" ,which comprises the calligraphy brush, ink stick, ink slab and paper.

But to the women in ancient China the chignon was far more than just a hair ornament. The chignon ceremony, which bestowed a hairpin upon a young woman when she reached the age of 15, was a rite of passage signifying that she had reached marriageable age.

A hairpin also functioned as a love token. When Chinese lovers of ancient times were forced to part they would often split a hairpin, both keeping a half with them at all times until they were reunited.


* Original address of this China gift post: China Gift and Fine Arts & Crafts in China