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What Is a Queue?


The queue was a sign of Manchu domination over the Han Chinese

A Chinese man with a queue, or braided pigtail, in his hair.

Drawing by Edward Gooch / Hulton Archives, c. 1800

Queue: The hairstyle in which the front and sides are shaved, and the rest of the hair is gathered up and plaited into a long braid. The queue was originally a Jurchen or Manchu hairstyle; when the ethnically-Manchu Qing Dynasty defeated the Ming in 1644 and conquered China, the first Manchu emperor, Shunzi, ordered all Han Chinese men to adopt the queue as a sign of submission. The only exceptions allowed to the queue order were for Buddhist monks, who shaved their entire heads, and Taoist priests, who did not have to shave.

Chunzi's queue order sparked wide-spread resistence across China. Han Chinese cited both the Ming Dynasty's System of Rites and Music and the teachings of Confucius, who wrote that people inherited their hair from their ancestors and ought not to damage (cut) it. Traditionally, adult Han men and women let their hair grow and then bound it up in different styles.

The Manchus cut short much of the discussion on queue-shaving by instituting a "Lose your hair or lose your head" policy; refusal to shave one's hair into a queue was treason, punishable by death. However, the issue never entirely went away, and the early 20th century anti-Qing rebels (including a young Mao Zedong) cut off their queues in a potent act of defiance.

Pronunciation: "kyew"
Also Known As: pigtail, braid, plait
Alternate Spellings: cue
"Some sources say that the queue symbolized that Han Chinese were a form of livestock for the Manchu, like horses. However, this hairstyle was originally a Manchu fashion, so that explanation seems unlikely."
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