January 19, 2010

Old Foochow Ways : Yisao and YiMei

This is part of a pre-war black and white photo of a working committee of Methodist Church of Sibu. As was the common practice of that time ladies sat in the front. Here I zoomed in on two of the married ladies to show their hair style.

(Photo from my father's collection)

This is a photo from China of my aunt Chiu Ik Chen and her foster mother before she came out to Sibu to join her mother my Grandaunt Tiong Yuk Ging. Note that she has has braid. Her foster mother has cut her hair short as the Communist Revolution has swept across China by then. (Photo : Courtesy of Madam Chiu Ik Chen of Sibu)

Wouldn't it be easier for men these days if they could tell easily whether a woman is married or not?

In early times in Fuzhou City, South China, married women and unmarried women could be distinguished from each other according to their hairstyle. If this happens today many problems would not develop at all.

In the period after theQingDynasty (1616-1911) and at the beginning of the Republic of China (1912-1949), married women there
arranged their hair in a bun while unmarried women arranged their hair in a plait, which was a generally accepted custom, and no one should go against it. Those with a bun were called respectfully "Yisao" (married women) while those with a plait were called "Yimei" (unmarried women). So the mark was clear, and the borderline was definite: you can judge at first 

sight, without mistakes.

(Photo : http://www.maiall.com. Note the TAMBUONG as a significant part of rich family's lifestyle then)
In the 1920s and 1930s, married women's hairstyle changed gradually from the bun to the modish perm. On the wedding day, the girl went to the barber's to have her hair permed, accompanied by her female friend or relative. After the perming, when she walked on the street, every one (no matter acquaintances or strangers) could understand that she would become a bride soon. In that period, the boundary betweenYisaoandYimeiwas still clear, so you would not make a mistake if you call someone according to her hairstyle.

Later on, unmarried teenage girls also had their hair permed, and someYisao who had become mothers still plaited their hair, so it became hard to tell aYisao from aYimei according to the hairstyle only.


Ah Ngao said...

hi Sarawakiana,talking about the on-spot "identification",if not mistaken those colour/powder mark on the forehead of Indian women also have some indications of whether they're married or single,eh?

Ann said...

heheheh, the Polnesians were smarter, just wear a Frangipani flower.

My Ah kung also told me about the buns and the plaits. We are cantonese. I guess it applied to the whole of China. My Ah Po had a bun.

The bun won't suit me,I have a broad face.

Superman said...

I guess nowadays there is no way to differentiate anymore. All straighten or curl their hair young and old which cost hundreds of dollars.

Ann said...


May be you have more to add about the Graveyard in front of our Methodist school? I remember my friend who lived also in front of the school said, the big boys used to have their recess in the graveyard.

My daughter went to school in Singapore, and told me that the Frangipani was called graveyard flower.

I then noticed when I drove past Muslim graveyards in West Malaysia, In deed, there were lots of Frangipanis.

When I was in School, in Sibu, Borneo, just in front of the school, was a Muslim grave yard. May be we too petrified to look properly. We only noticed the head stones were very closed together. Sarawakiana, did you remember?

Upon query, I was told that Muslim's bury their decease vertically. Jama will have to confirm this.

Fast forward a few years, The university the water engineer lectured built new residential blocks, at the entrance to these block, some landscape smart Alec planted Frangipanis on both sides of the stairs. I wasn't alone to wonder why plant a graveyard flower at the residential area.

Fast forward a few years, by then I have left Singapore, some one killed himself in one of the apartments. And another healthy person suddenly died.

Believe it or not?

I did not want to post this info when I wrote about Prince William. But this is a very good piece on different culture.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao
Thanks for visiting. Thanks for the comment on the dot on the Indian's forehead.
For some religious purposes a black indicates soemthing and so does a red dot. Will write about that someday.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann
Yeah the Polynesians wear those beautiful flowers and surround themselves with lovely natural flowers too.
It did not matter then and it does not matter now - whatever you have a bun is always neat and regal. You have to "carry it well" was my grandmother's advice.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Superman
Yes mother and daughter can go to the hairdressers and come out with all those maggi mee curls costing a grand together!! Dad should be rich with thick wallets...but they should also be his pride too...Perms are very expensive nowadays. Treatment is hitting the roof!! Skin care is also in hundreds!
Thanks for sharing.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

It is sad to know of untimely deaths. But I am sure they are not related to frangipanies. However few people would plant frangipanies in their house compounds but I have not really done a research on that.
But I do remember the Muslim cemetery outside our school. In fact the Methodist School property was bought from the Malays after some long negotiation after the second World WAr.
the Muslim burial is very different from the Chinese burial. That is why the Batu Nissan (headstone) are close together. Vertical is correct and no coffin.
Hard to believe the connection between the flowers and death...but one cannot be too careful...Will ask a feng shui man about this.
Thanks for sharing.

Sarawakiana@2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Mem

How are you? Going any where during the CNY?

Nice post about married and unmarried women...yes I think it wise to be able to distinguish between them.

Heard about all those ladies in the pubs etc. pretending to be unmarried and unattached. Cause trouble to families only. Think about that make me squirm.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Kay
Nice of you to visit.
Not going any where for CNY.

Hope this kind of trouble in pub will go away....need good people to turn society around...but with urbanisation lots of problems can surface...it goes without saying??????


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