China’s deadly haircuts
Now that we are in the first month of the Lunar year, stories about how someone's haircut has lead to familial strife has once again reared their ugly heads in the media.
News website china.cnr.cn reported last week an incident in which a man surnamed Jiang in Changchun, Jilin Province, got into a quarrel with his maternal uncle, or jiujiu in Chinese, after the uncle noticed Jiang's new hairdo.
The reason behind these conflicts stems from the Chinese saying zhengyue titou sijiujiu, which translates to "Shave your head during the first month (Lunar calendar), and your maternal uncle dies." With this saying in mind, many still believe that the first month of the Lunar calendar is not an appropriate time for a haircut.
The Lunar New Year holiday period is filled with traditional restrictions and rules: You can't take baths, showers or do laundry on the Lunar New Year's Day or you might wash away good luck. You're also not supposed to throw out the trash or say the word si (dead). Another no-no is calling out someone's name to wake them up that morning, or else the person will be doomed to be constantly hurried up by everyone for the rest of the year.
Although these various "prohibitions" may seem a bit confining during the Chinese New Year, such traditions are still preserved by many, especially among older generations.
A Qing Dynasty inheritance
There are many explanations for the no hair cut tradition. The most popular one is that sijiu(死舅 - dead uncle) came from the near homophone of si (思 - think) and jiu (旧- old) which together means "thinking of olden days."
During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the Manchu rulers of China required all adult males to shave their heads into a queue, a type of hairstyle in which the front half of a man's head is shaved while the remaining hair is gathered up in a long braided ponytail.
Thus, sijiu in the saying refers to people thinking back to the days prior to the Qing when they weren't required to shave their heads. This was also seen as a way that the Han people could rebel against their Manchu rulers.
However, due to the similarities to the pronunciation of "dead uncle," the idea that haircuts would lead to the death of a beloved family member began to spread and eventually took over the saying.
Zhao Shu, a writer and an expert in Chinese folk customs, offered a different explanation. He told the Global Times that there were three factors behind this "no haircuts" tradition.
First, the first 15 days of the first month of the Lunar calendar is a time for bainian (visiting friends and relatives). Children need to look smart, tidy and clean when greeting their elderly relatives, as such they should get a haircut right prior to the beginning of the Lunar New Year, instead of during it.
The second reason, according to Zhao, has to do with health reasons. The first month of Lunar New Year usually falls during the coldest time of the year in many places and children with shaved heads would be at higher risk to catching an unwanted cold.
As to why it's someone's maternal uncle who dies as opposed to their paternal uncle, the reasons behind this are political.
During the Qing Dynasty, the emperor would often marry off princesses to Mongolian chieftains or high ranking chancellors in the court. Any children resulting from this union would have the emperor of China as their maternal uncle, hence in many people's minds maternal uncles and imperial authority became linked together, which in turn led to sayings that came about during the Qing to lean towards maternal uncles instead of paternal uncles.(Globaltimes)