From sinners to stylists, from a famed general to ordinary women, Chinese hairstyles have evolved from symbols of ethnicity, class status and political alignment to an expression of individuality and style. In China, possibly more than in any other culture, hair has long had strong political and social meaning.

In ancient times especially, people cherished their hair as a symbol of self-respect. Hair was as highly valued as the body. In the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), a punishment called kun required sinners to shave their hair and beard. Compared with other physical punishments this was considered more devastating because it insulted the soul.

During the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), the famed General Cao Cao was spared the death sentence, but instead of losing his head he had his hair cut off as a punishment for disobeying military orders. Significant proof of how seriously people took their hair in ancient times.

Hair in prehistoric times helped distinguish between the Han people and other ethnic groups, as the former tended to have it bound, while the latter usually grew their long hair to be disheveled. In the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), hairdos with different shapes evolved into a symbol of class status.

When the Manchu people took national sovereignty, one of the first things they did was to order civilians to shave their heads. Unshaven heads therefore became a clear sign of dissent.

The most typical example was the rebellious Taiping armies who were cursed by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) rulers as "hairy thieves". That same political symbolism carried on to the later years of Republic of China (1912-49) when it was against the law to have pigtails.

Even after the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, hair's complicated relationship with politics did not end.

In the 1950s, a short bob, cut just below the ears, a simple style favored by female communists and soldiers, was widely imitated by Chinese women.

This style the "liberation hairdo" as it signified women being liberated and becoming their own master. The only sign of individuality was the different hairpins and silk flowers. But Younger women were still in favor of braids, one on each side of the head. A typical compliment paid to a girl at this time was.

In the 1950s, many women chose to perm their hair into loose waves. But from 1957 on, in conjunction with several political movements, women cut their hair even shorter, which was often referred to as the "movement hairdo".

When the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) began,  "corrections" started with women's hair. Long braids were cut short, and the "capitalist-style", permed waves, disappeared.

Harsh treatment toward "capitalist-roaders" could also start with their hair. In an essay entitled Records of 1966 and 1967, writer Yang Jiang describes an incident in which half her hair was cut off, giving her a "yin-yang head", an insulting punishment often used during the "cultural revolution".

From the late 1970s, when China began to implement the reform and opening-up policy, hairstyles became purely a personal choice to demonstrate individuality and aesthetic preferences.

In the late 1970s, permed hair, such as afros and long permed waves again became trendy. By the 1980s, perms were common, along with short bobs - always a favorite of Chinese women.

By the late 1990s, hair dye became a significant trend. As Chinese women embraced more possibilities for their hair shapes and colors, the country has also begun to see a growing variety of hair accessories and hair care products.

Since the late 1970s, trends have repeatedly shifted. Imported hairstyles, like the bob and afros have all left a significant mark in the history of Chinese fashion. Behind each of these trendy hairdos was trendsetters such as Momoe Yamaguchi, Teresa Teng and Maggie Chung.

In the 1980s, perms were common, along with short bobs.  It was during this period that China's beauty industry blossomed, with a growing number of local and international-branded hair salons opening their doors.

There has also been a growing international influence with local salons sending their stylists to be trained overseas and foreign talents coming to work in China. All these developments have helped Chinese fashionistas keep up with international trends.

A Malaysian who came to Shanghai in 2007, Yeo grew up with the stereotypical view that Chinese were provincial and rustic. But now he tells his friends to visit and be shocked by Shanghai's trendy looks.