Hair Adornment of Ancient Chinese Women

It’s only natural that everybody takes a fancy to beauty. This is an array of hairpins and earrings with unparalleled exquisiteness worn by ancient Chinese women.

Gold comb with children at play and flower and birdShanghai Guanfu Museum

When it came to Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279 AD) of China, combs which had been used as a tool of arranging hair evolved into an adornment for chignons. The beautiful line in a Tang-dynasty poem “half of the rhino-horn comb submerged in the hair while the cloud-shaped back exposed” reveals the charming adornment of a crescent-shaped comb backbone when it was fixed on a chignon with its teeth inserted in the hair.

Gold hair ornament with phoenix and flower tasselsShanghai Guanfu Museum

This crescent bangs-comb used to adorn the forehead or temples is decorated with a veil and bell-shaped pendants. The view of this piece engenders the picture of a charming lady walking gracefully with this comb as an ornament.

Gold cylindrical hairpin with floral and scroll designShanghai Guanfu Museum

Barrel-shaped gold hairpins, also called “openwork hairpins” due to the openwork floral designs all through, witnessed a huge popularity during the Song, Yuan and Qing dynasties. Women of ancient China all kept long hair, which was usually arranged into beautiful yet complicated styles, often with wig chignons as the basis. Such openwork hairpins came into being when women felt the need to release heat engendered by the big, thick chignons.

Gold hair crown with lotus and mandarin ducksShanghai Guanfu Museum

Gold hair crown with lotus and mandarin ducksShanghai Guanfu Museum

Fenxin usually refers to hairpins adorning the back of head of ancient Chinese women. Some "qian fenxin", meaning "front hairpins" literally, were also used to decorate the front of head. As indicated in the section of "attire and adornment of ladies with government-granted titles" of an ancient Chinese book San Cai Tu Hui (三才图会) by Wang Qi (1530-1615 AD) of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), "hou fenxin", referring to "head back hairpins", were also called manguan, meaning "head with adornments all over".

Pair of gold hexagonal earrings with brocaded pattern and leaf ornamentShanghai Guanfu Museum

Pair of gold hexagonal earrings with brocaded pattern and leaf ornamentShanghai Guanfu Museum

This pair of barrel-shaped earrings features chased circular lines and geometric motifs, which many believe came into being under the influence of Sogdian art and culture from Central Asia, just as the ring pattern found on the relics dating back the Northern and Southern Dynasties as well as the later Sui dynasty.

Gold 'Makara' earringsShanghai Guanfu Museum

Gold 'Makara' earringsShanghai Guanfu Museum

Among the gold ware pieces of the Liao dynasty (907-1125 AD) which are known for their distinctive artistic features, Makara-themed earrings are even more unique. The Makara’s U-shaped half-fish and half-animal body, and its awe-inspiring look have both added a sense of mystery to the earrings. Having also been frequently found on porcelains and jade ware of the Liao dynasty, the Makara was actually a quite common decorative pattern during that period.

Makara, one of the 12 constellations well known among modern people, is also called fish-turned-dragon by some Chinese scholars. Believed to be an amphibian immortal beast living in ancient India, Makara has usually been illustrated with a complicated body structure, with the lower half as fish and the upper half the combination of alligators, elephants, deer, etc.

Makara serves not only as the riding animal of the goddess of the Ganges River , but also as earrings of many deities of the Hindu, including Vishnu. It is estimated that the image of Makara was introduced to China together with the Buddhism as mentioned the line “his boat was destroyed by the fish Mokara” in the Madhyamagama translated into Chinese by Gautama Saghadeva in 398.

Pair of gold filigree gourd shape earringsShanghai Guanfu Museum

Pair of gold filigree gourd shape earringsShanghai Guanfu Museum

This pair of sumptuous gourd-shaped earrings must have been finished with unrivalled craftsmanship. Each of them is composed of two openwork filigree balls of different sizes, jointed with miniature gold beads via welding. The balls feature densely-arranged openwork vine and floral motifs, supplemented by the leaf-shaped foot at the bottom as well as the fine gold wires and beads at the conjunction between the gourd and the hook.

Gold filigree butterfly shape hairpin with inlaid rubies and sapphiresShanghai Guanfu Museum

Buyao, meaning “walk and dangle” literally, is a kind of fancier hairpin usually adorned with beaded strings as pendants. The strings dangle when the wearer walks, thus the name. This gold buyao in the shape of a flying butterfly with outstretched wings looks extremely luxurious.

Gold filigree enamel hairpin with inlaid rubiesShanghai Guanfu Museum

Inspired by the traditional Chinese décor theme “butterflies flying around flowers”, this pair of sumptuous yet elegant buyao crafted with meticulous work features four five-petal flowers on each, surrounded by two flying butterflies finished with the bluing technique. A shiny ruby is seen inserted in the stamen of the central flower.

Gold filigree hairpin with inlaid rubies and sapphiresShanghai Guanfu Museum

Featuring on the upper end a ruby bug whose two tentacles dangle as the wearer walks, this pair of buyao is adorned with variant characters of “福” (Fu, meaning fortunes)and “寿” (Shou, meaning longevity), which, combined with the deer (鹿, Lu, hegemony of 禄, high-ranking officialdom in Chinese)pattern on the lower end, visualizes the auspicious Chinese saying “fortunes, high-ranking officialdom and longevity”, extending the longing for thriving life of ancient Chinese women.

Credits: Story

Shanghai Guanfu Museum

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