ABSTRACT

The dramatic and defiant declaration “You can cut off my head, but never my hair” was a popular slogan of the Ulmi Righteous Army Movement and part of the organized resistance against King Kojong’s 30 December 1895 haircutting edict that required Korean males to cut off their topnots or braids and to wear their hair Western-style. The antagonism generated by the King’s order reflected the depth of influence of classical learning and culture in the late Choso˘n dynasty: his decree violated the custom of showing respect to the body inherited from one’s parents, and undermined the integrity of Chungwha, the notion that China was the cultural center of the universe. Protests against the edict, mainly involving scholars and peasants, were widespread and sometimes violent. They forced the kingdom to issue a defensive statement in January 1896 saying that haircutting was not compulsory for the general population.1