Tania Branigan – Guardian News – Friday, 04 July 2014 (originally published 3 Jul)
Her mother carefully undid Liang Jieyun’s plaits, combed out the strands and pinned them into a bun. When her friends put up their hair, they wore the red clothing of brides. But as Liang left her girlhood behind and stepped across the family threshold, she was embarking on a lifelong commitment to remain single.
At 85, Liang is a rare survivor of a custom stretching back to the early 19th century in parts of southern Guangdong. Women here could vow to remain a “self-combed woman”, or zishunü, leaving their parents’ home to work without marrying. “If I hadn’t become a ‘self-combed woman’, the landlord would have forced me into marriage,” she said.
The words recited with the eight strokes of the comb hint at the uneven path ahead: “First comb for luck, second for longevity, third for contentment, fourth for safety. Fifth for freedom …” . . .