Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Ceremonies/The Introduction of the Queue

Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China edited by Arnold Wright
Chapter: Ceremonies and Customs of the Chinese. Subchapter: The Introduction of the Queue by S. W. Tso



    Not as gentle as he might be.     Al Fresco Tonsorial Artists.
    A Gentleman's Toilet.        



The wearing of the towchang, or queue, by the Chinese is, contrary to popular belief, a custom of comparatively recent origin, and the story of its introduction is one of the most interesting in the history of the nation. A little less than three hundred years ago, the struggle between the Mings and the Manchus ended in the conquest of China by the Tartars. One of the ministers of the fallen dynasty, desirous of seeing the Mings re-established, ingratiated himself with the conquerors, and urged them to humiliate the Chinese by enforcing upon them the wearing of the queue and of certain forms of dress, in token of their subjugation. The minister was actuated by the hope that the Chinese, exasperated beyond endurance, would make a last supreme effort to throw off the Tartar yoke, but, wearied with thirty years of bloodshed, and broken in spirit by the horrors attendant on the war, they submitted quietly to the indignity rather than prolong a futile struggle. Disappointed at this unexpected failure of his scheme, the minister put an end to his life, and the wearing of the queue has in course of time come to be regarded as a badge, honourable rather than servile, of loyalty to the reigning house.

The wearing of the towchang, enforced originally under pain of heavy penalties, has long ceased to be compulsory, and to-day, owing to the influence of Western ideas, large numbers of Chinese have discarded the appendage, and have adopted European dress. In official circles, however, the queue has still its loyal significance. Quite recently the Chinese Ambassador at Berlin sent a memorial to the Imperial Government requesting that members of the Chinese Embassy should be permitted to adopt European costume, so that they might not be conspicuous, but suggesting that the queue be allowed to remain "as a mark of respect to the Emperor."

Under former dynasties the mode of wearing the hair was similar to that until recently common in Japan, and still more recently in Korea. It may be added that under the old Manchu edict ladies were left free to dress their hair and attire themselves as they chose, and permission was granted for the dead to be arrayed by their friends in the costume of the former dynasty.

The practice of allowing the finger-nails to remain uncut originated in Hunan some two hundred years ago amongst Chinese ladies, from whom it was copied later by the literati, who sought in this way to show that they were not engaged in any manual occupation. The custom is now dying out, although it obtains still among the leisured classes in the interior.

It was the wife of the Emperor Li Hou Tsu, of the Tang dynasty, who first set the fashion of binding the feet, some twelve hundred years ago. The practice is rapidly falling into disfavour, and an imperial decree has, as has been stated previously, been issued within the last few years urging its discontinuance.