The rulers of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912), China’s last imperial dynasty, were not Han Chinese but Manchu, who were native to east Siberia and northeast Asia. During Manchu rule, men in China – with some exceptions – sported a shaved forehead and a braided pigtail that hung down their back, a style imposed on Han men on pain of death. The women of the period, however, had more choices. Among Manchu women, the most popular hairstyle was the erbatou or liangbatou , literally “a head with two handfuls [of hair]”. We see it in television potboilers set in the Qing dynasty, as well as in photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where the women resembled hammerhead sharks with their elevated and horizontal coiffures. The original version of the erbatou was a simple do where one’s long hair was gathered at the top of the head and then divided into two chignons that were shaped with hairpins. As the chignons could be easily unravelled, they were minimally adorned with lightweight accessories, such as freshly cut flowers and wooden or ivory combs. This simple, everyday hairstyle was favoured by empresses, princesses and other women in the palace in the early decades of the Qing dynasty, reflecting the austerity of that period when minority Manchu rule was still tenuous, and parts of the Chinese empire remained unconquered. By the time of the Qianlong Emperor (who reigned from 1735 to 1796) Qing dynasty China was at the height of its military, economic and cultural power. It was also a time when the humble erbatou was dialled up multiple notches in tandem with the new-found prosperity and confidence of the age. New styling tools and accessories were added to the repertoire of the women of the imperial palace, the most essential of which was a long horizontal frame, made of wood or metal. The frame, which sat on a base, was placed upright at the crown of a woman’s head. Her hair was then divided into two and wound around the frame, teased and pinned into the requisite shape. As the new version of the erbatou was more elaborate, many palace women used hairpieces to augment their own hair. This immovable, tightly wound hairdo was a blank canvas on to which high-born women went to town with accessories of gold, gemstones, jade, pearls, coral, and a long tassel or two hanging from the far ends of their erbatou. Women with means wore a veritable jewel box on their hair, now that weight and money were no longer an issue. By the late 19th century, with the Qing dynasty in terminal decline, battered by domestic rebellions and foreign invasions, the dalachi (“big pulled wings”) was all the rage among women. Purportedly invented by Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), China’s de facto ruler for most of the second half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, the dalachi was the erbatou on steroids. Soaring up to a foot tall with a much expanded area for even more bling, the metal wires and stiffened silk confection was essentially a hat that could be easily put on and removed. In contrast, the erbatou , both the basic and baroque versions, required dressing one’s hair into the desired shape. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, Manchu hairstyles fell out of favour, even among the Manchus themselves, who by then had been thoroughly sinicised. It was more than changing fashions. Sporting Manchu hairstyles in a milieu of anti-Manchu resentment, whipped up by the Republican revolutionaries of that time, could actually be dangerous for Manchus who sought to get on with their lives.