In China, maybe more than in any other culture, hair was a symbol of ethnicity and class but also an expression of political alignment.
In ancient times, hair was valued as a symbol of self-respect and cutting off or shaving one’s hair was a severe punishment. Hair also helped to distinguish several ethnic groups so when the Manchu people took sovereignty, one of the first things they did was to order civilians to shave their heads, what therefore became a sign of dissent.
During the “cultural revolution” (1966-76) “corrections” were made to women who wore their hair inappropriately. “Capitalist-style” perms disappeared and women cut off their hair very short to show their revolutionary spirit. In his article “Cultural Revolution and Hair”, scholar Gu Nong writes that at that time one braid was seen as feudalistic, two as capitalistic, and shoulder-length hair as purely revisionism.
With the opening-up of China in the late 1970s, hairstyles finally became subject to an individual’s choice and preferences.