On 7 June 1644, a day after entering Peking, the Manchu (Qing) prince Dorgon, regent for the Manchu child emperor Shunzhi, issued a decree stating that, henceforth, all Chinese (Han) men should shave their foreheads and have their hair braided in back in the Manchu-style queue.
A storm of protest forced Dorgon to cancel his decree, but the following June another order was issued that Chinese military men must adopt the queue; this was to make it easier for the Manchus to identify their enemies in battle, and assure them that those who had surrendered would remain loyal to them in the future. But senior advisers of Dorgon felt that this did not go far enough, and so on today’s date, Dorgon reissued the decree that every Chinese man must shave his forehead and begin to grow the queue within ten days or face execution. This order was popularly summarized as “Keep your hair and lose your head, or lose your hair and keep your head.”
For Han officials and literati, the new hairstyle was a humiliating act of degradation because it breached a common Confucian directive to preserve one’s body intact, whereas for common folk cutting their hair was tantamount to the loss of their manhood. Because it united Chinese of all social backgrounds into resistance against Qing rule, the haircutting command broke the momentum of the Qing conquest. The defiant population of Jiading and Songjiang was massacred by former Ming general Li Chengdong, respectively on August 24 and September 22. Jiangyin also held out against about 10,000 Qing troops for 83 days. When the city wall was finally breached on 9 October 1645, the Qing army led by Ming defector Liu Liangzuo, who had been ordered to “fill the city with corpses before you sheathe your swords,” massacred the entire population, killing between 74,000 and 100,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed before all of China was brought into compliance.
Almost 270 years later, after the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Sun Yat-sen in the capacity of Provisional President of the newly founded Republic of China promulgated an order requiring all soldiers and civilian men to cut their queues. “Queue cutting rallies” were held where men had their hair cut together with thousands of compatriots. In the early Republican period, queue cutting became an expression of support for the revolution.
- Frederic Wakeman, “Localism and Loyalism During the Ch’ing Conquest of Kiangnan: The Tragedy of Chiang-yin”, in Frederic Wakeman, Jr., and Carolyn Grant (eds.), Conflict and Control in Late Imperial China (Berkeley: Center of Chinese Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1975), pp. 43–85
- Frederic Wakeman, The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-Century China (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1985). In two volumes.