Bath And Hair Washing Day In The Life Of Ancient Han Dynasty Officials


The Han Dynasty of ancient China was founded by a man named Liu Bang, an anti-Qin rebel who became king of Han in 206 BCE and, after having defeated his rival, Xiang Yu, ascended to the rank of Supreme Emperor in 202 BCE. Officials in the government of this new Han Dynasty were usually given housing in buildings near the palace, so that they could be in close proximity to the emperor. The families of the officials were apparently not allowed to live in the state-provided dormitories and the duties of the officials would often keep them at the palace for days at a time.

Every fifth day, however, was a special occasion called “bath and hair washing day”—it was a time to…well…bathe, but for the palace officials, it was also basically a code phrase for rest and recovery. On bath and hair washing day, officials could leave the palace and return to their family homes to spend time on their private property with their family. Nevertheless, it was only a day, so the officials would need to eventually rush back to the palace and eagerly await the next bath and hair washing day.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (River painting by Tang Yin (1470–1524), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).


  • The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

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