Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


David Gordon

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies | Asian History | Asian Studies | Chinese Studies | Critical and Cultural Studies | Cultural History | Law and Race | Race and Ethnicity | Social and Cultural Anthropology


hair, queue, Qing, Chinese, Han, Manchu


This thesis is about the politicization of hairstyles in imperial China. They indicated conformity with social norms, or rebellion against them. This was especially true under the country’s last dynasty. The Manchu conquerors imposed their own hairstyle, the queue, on their Han Chinese subjects to make their rule palpable to China’s illiterate millions. “Hair martyrs” who refused to accept this “barbarous” hairstyle were ruthlessly eliminated. The Manchus had feared assimilation into the much larger Han population. But the introduction of one uniform male hair style for both Manchus and Han blurred the lines between the two groups. In this way the polarization between “barbarian” and civilized, Manchu or Han began to break down. This is also seen in the changing appreciation of the queue. It was, ironically, slowly transformed into one of the best-known symbols of Chinese, and not simply Manchu, identity. (This was especially true among Chinese living the West.) Not only were Manchu rulers inexorably drawn into Chinese culture, but so were their queues. As such, these curious braids became symbols by the end of the dynasty of an appreciation of all that was worthy of preservation in Chinese philosophy and morals. This brings a new understanding of the opposition to the furious v campaign launched by Dr. Sun Yatsen, the Chinese Republic’s first president, against the queue. The government presented it as an assault on one of the most obvious symbols of Manchu rule. But it was much more than that. Sun was also introducing Western political and scientific notions that were at least as foreign to traditional Chinese civilization as Manchu rule. Culturally conservative Chinese felt they had much to fear from the new Republic. They understood that Sun’s program would make old China unrecognizable. Their desire to keep the queue was part of a greater resistance against a foreign cultural invasion far more destructive than anything China had known under the Manchus.