A Cinamans Queue by Anonymous
Everyone knows that a Chinaman wears his hair in a queue, but not
everyone knows why he does so. A Chinaman's queue is not a mere oddity
or variety; it is, to him, a very serious thing; losing it, he would
almost sell his respectability, and history tells of more than one
time when it has been a matter of life and death.
In many of their customs the people of China follow their forefathers
of more than a thousand years ago, but queues may be called a new
fashion, having only been worn about two hundred and fifty years.
In very old times, the Chinese wore their long hair put up in a
peculiar manner upon the tops of their heads, and called themselves
"The Black-Haired Race;" but about the time that the Pilgrims landed
at Plymouth, in the year 1627, the Tartars, who had come down from
Manchuria, and, after long wars, had conquered China, which they have
governed ever since, made a law that all the Chinese, to show that
they had been conquered, should take down their top-knots, and wear
their hair as the Tartars did, in a hanging braid; and they threatened
to kill all who would not do it.
Of course the Chinese were greatly distressed by this; but, as it was
better to have a tail than to be without a head, they submitted in the
end, making the best of what they could not help.
The people of southern China held out longest against the queue, and,
in one district, men were hired to wear it. Even now, dwelling among
the hills, are a few men belonging to a very old and wild tribe, whose
pride it is that they have never worn hanging hair; while the Amoy
men, who were the very last to yield to the Tartars, wear a turban to
hide the shaven head, and the detested tail; but some persons think
that the nation in general have come to like the new style better
that the old; others think that they would gladly go back to the old
way, if they could.
A few years ago there was a great rebellion in China. A part of the
Chinese rebelled against the Tartars, and all the rebels put up their
hair in the old Chinese fashion; and, because they did not shave their
heads, they went by the name of the "Long-Haired Robbers." When any of
their soldiers met a man with a queue they knew that he was loyal to
the Tartar government, and they would kill him, or cut off his queue,
or do what they liked with him; and, on the other hand, the life of
a "Long-Haired Robber" was not safe for a moment if he fell into the
hands of the government troops. At length, after many, many millions
of people were killed, queues carried the day, and the rebels were
I have heard that thieves sometimes have their queues cut off for a
punishment, and, now and then, I suppose, a person's hair must fall
off after illness, but, in these cases, it would grow again.
There are two classes of men in China who never wear queues—the
Buddhist priests, who shave their heads all over, and who can be known
by the color of their gowns, and their queer hats, and the Tauists,
who, as a sign of their priesthood, wear their hair in a kind of twist
on the back of their heads. With these few exceptions, every Chinaman
has a queue, from the young child whose short hairs are pinched up,
sometimes on the crown of the head, and sometimes on the sides of it,
and braided with threads of red silk into a tight little tail a few
inches long, so stiff that it stands straight out from the head, up to
the almost bald old man, whose straggling gray hairs are tied into a
thin wisp at the back of his neck.
The Chinese have usually a good quantity of hair, coarse, perfectly
straight, and jetty black, except, in a few cases, where, from
illness, the color is rusty black. They have hardly any beard, but
some of them—though not often before they are grandfathers, and more
than forty years old—wear a much-admired moustache. Accustomed to
black locks and smooth faces, they look curiously on the full beards
of the men, and the yellow curls of the children, of our fairer race,
or, as they style us, "The Red-Headed Foreigners."
The Chinese shave the whole head, except a round patch on the crown,
about as large as a breakfast saucer. On this they let the hair grow,
and it is combed back and down, and tied firmly with a string, at
the middle of the bottom of the patch. It is then divided into three
strands and braided. If a man is very poor, he simply has a plat, the
length of his hair, fastened at the end with a cotton string; but the
Chinese have a good deal of pride about their hair, and, if they can
afford it, like to have the queue handsomely made. Often tresses of
false hair are added to it, for making which the hairs that fall out
are carefully saved. Of course, the hair is thinner at the end than at
the top, and to keep the braid of more even size, and to increase its
length, long bunches of black silk cord are gradually woven into it.
Queues vary in length, but grown men often wear them hanging nearly
to their shoes, the upper part of the braid being of hair, and the
lower part of black silk cord, which is tied in a tassel at the end.
In southern China, children's queues are made bright and jaunty with
For mourning white cord is used, and for half mourning blue. Also,
persons in mourning do not have their heads shaven for a certain
length of time. When the emperor dies, nobody in China is expected to
be shaven for one hundred days.
Commonly, tidy, well-to-do people have their heads shaven every few
days, and, as no one could easily shave the top of his own head,
everybody employs a barber. Of course there are a great many barbers,
and, with all the millions of people in China, they have a large
Besides the shops, many barbers have little movable stands containing
all their tools, and they may often be seen plying their art by the
wayside, or at the houses of their customers. The barber has a basin
of hot water, a towel, and an awkward kind of razor; and when he has
shaven and washed the head, and braided the hair of a man, he ends up
all by patting him, with both hands, upon the back and shoulders, in
a way which, to him, is truly delightful. For all this, his charge is
not more than six cents, and a poor man would pay still less.
To make his queue thicker, sometimes a Chinaman wishes to grow more
hair, and the barber will leave his head unshaven for, perhaps, a
quarter of an inch all round the old circle of hair. When the new
hair is an inch or two long, being very stiff, it stands up in a
fringe—like a kind of black halo—all round his head, looking very
comically, and annoying the Chinaman very much, until it is long
enough to be put into the braid.
When a man is at work, he finds his queue very much in his way, and
he binds it about his head, or winds it up in a ball behind, where
he sometimes fastens it with a small wooden comb; but, in his own
country, on all occasions of form and dress, he wears it hanging, and
it would not be polite to do otherwise.
As it would take a long time to dry it, he dislikes to wet it, and, if
rain comes on, hastens to roll it up and cover it.
Sometimes beggars, to make themselves look very wretched, do not dress
their hair for a long time, and it becomes so frizzed and matted that
hardly anything could be done to it, but to cut most of it off.
When a culprit is arrested in China, the officer takes hold of his
queue and leads him to prison by it, often treating him very cruelly.
Little girls, as well as little boys, have their heads shaven when
they are about a month old. This is done before an idol, with a good
deal of parade. Young girls also wear their hair in queues, but as
when older their heads are not shaven like those of the boys, a larger
quantity of hair is drawn back into the braid, making it much heavier.
When married their hair is put up in the fashion of the women of the
district where they live, but married women never wear their hair
One who has lived long in China does not like to see a thin, uneven
queue, tied with a cotton string; it has a slovenly, poverty-stricken
air; while a thick, glossy braid, with a heavy bunch of silk in the
end of it, looks tidy and prosperous; and a neat plat of silvery hair
betokens comfortable old age.