Ancient Chinese Beauty and Fashion


Aesthetic value was something of great importance in ancient China. A visual sense of beauty could be found everywhere from the imperial palace to the streets. It was evident and indispensable across the country’s culture. For millennia beauty and fashion have been a pressing concern for Chinese women. Chinese women’s make up techniques and the hair accessories which they have employed over the centuries are still of great interest to those with a passion for beauty. Here are descriptions of some of the finer points of Chinese historical beauty.

Tang Dynasty Makeup

During the Tang Dynasty (618AD-907) making up became a highly skilled artform. Although makeup was not invented in this era, this was the time that saw a surge in makeup techniques and its place in everyday culture, thanks to the progressive ideas and pursuit of beauty within this time.

A woman’s makeup routine began with a foundation powder, followed by rouge and a dusting of light yellow powder. Bluish black eyebrows were then carefully painted on, lipstick was applied, and dimples either added or emphasized. Finally an ornamental flourish was pasted or painted onto the forehead. The ornamental designs which elegant Tang ladies used for this purpose were commonly bird feathers or black paper. A variety of other materials were used including shell, goldleaf, fishbone or mica. In instances were nothing was pasted onto the head ad design would be painted instead

Eyebrows have always been a focus in Chinese beauty culture as they still are today. Travelling in China you may notice all of the different styles of eyebrows and permanent makeup used in the highlight of the eyebrows. Each of the ancient styles had its own name and there were dozens of styles. Tang Dynasty eyebrows painted in bluish black were called daimei, long, fine eyebrows were emei, and guangmei eyebrows were short and thick.

Fashionable make up trends had beome less innovative by the late Tang Dynasty, when women stopped using face powder and colored their lips black. This new style ushered in a new era which was defined by an almost gothic look which brought out a striking quality in feminine beauty.

Traditional Chinese Hair Accessories

The Chinese use one standard term when referring to hairpins and hair clasps, the word ‘ji’. Single bar ji were used to fix coiled hair in place, and two bar ji were used in the creation of more elaborate styles. Prior to the Qing Dynasty both Chinese men and women wore their hair in a bun with a ji to keep it pinned in place. The intricate designs and diverse details om these ornamental accessories made them popular across society.

Fashioned from jade, gold, silver, ivory, bronze and carved wood, the style, materials and craftsmanship of these items were exemplars of Chinese ethnic culture. The style and fine craftsmanship of the hair pins gave people a clue as to the social standing of their wearer. Feudal etiquette dictated the style of hair ornaments females wore during formal occasions, such as weddings or court ceremonies.

The elaborate buyao hairpin was a fine hair accessory which marked the wearer as being of noble status. Commonly laden with jewels and engraved with pleasing designs, the main feature of a buyao was its dangling curtain of beaded strings that flatteringly framed the wearer's face and moved fluidly as the wearer moved. This feature earned the accessory the name buyao, translating literally as "shake as you go". This ornament was generally golden and its shape resembled that of a dragon or phoenix and it was adorned with pearls and jade.

Hair ornaments worn by wealthy women commonly took the form of gold flowers with jewel inlays depicting flowers or various creatures. Decorative inlay patterns included birds and beasts considered auspicious, such as the dragon, phoenix, crane, deer and the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The deer was considered a auspicious animal because the pronunciation of its name is a homonym of the word for six, denoting prosperity. Hairpins with a mandarin duck design denoted marital success as these ducks are always seen in pairs with their mates.

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 worth, longevity, luck and good fortune. Designs depicting favored objects featured musical instruments, chess pieces, calligraphic characters, and the four scholastic treasures including the calligraphy brush, ink stick, ink slab and paper.

Ji hairpins also had a deeper cultural significance as they were commonly gifted to Chinese girls at the age of 16 as part of a rite of passage ritual. Additionally, ji with two bars were used by lovers that would be separated, each keeping one so that one day they might be reunited.


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