LAST_UPDATESat, 26 May 2018 10am

Chinese Man Prisoned For Growing A Beard, What’s Wrong With Having Facial Hair?

Haji Mohd Hassan Munas (1853-1915), or better known as Tok Janggut, the famous Malay warrior who hails from Kelantan was given the name as he had a long beard that almost reached his chest.

While it is a common sight to see Malays growing beards, in China, it is pretty rare. Could it be that Chinese people are not fond of growing beards? If it is true, why is that so? Because in ancient times, Chinese people did in fact grow beards. Among them, Chinese philosophers, fighters, even Shaolin kung fun masters. However, these days it is very difficult to find Chinese men who grow beards. These days people who grow beards, will most likely be branded as terrorists.

In a China Youth Daily report, a court in Kashgar has sentenced a 38-year-old Uighur man to six years in prison for growing a beard, while his wife was given a two–year sentence for wearing a veil hiding her face and a burqa. For more than a year the authorities in the Xinjiang region have been campaigning against men growing beards – a practice officials associate with extremist ideas.

A glimpse at China's history reveals that Guan Yu, also known as Guan Gong (206 BC–220 AD), the infamous general serving under the warlord Liu Bei in the late Eastern Han dynasty during the establishment of China’s Three Kingdoms, was a man adored for his honesty and loyalty.

Today, Guan Yu is worshipped by many different strands of Chinese society as a mighty warrior, a protector, a man of peace and guarantor of harmony, and as the embodiment of honesty and integrity. He is often depicted in paintings, sculptures and many art forms.

Among his wise words were, "Read good books, speak good things, do the right thing, be a good person.” More than 1,000 years after his death, Guan Yu was worshipped as a God, for his code of brotherhood and righteousness. And interestingly enough, Guan Yu had a long beard too.

Guan Yu swore an oath of brotherhood to his master Liu Bei and fellow general Zhang Fei according to the legend, vowing to protect the Han Dynasty and remain loyal to the cause. Like Guan Yu, both these men also grew their beards.

Another bearded God who is often worshipped during the Chinese New Year is Cai Shen, the God of Wealth and Prosperity. Apart from that, there are other Chinese Gods that wore long beards and are being worshipped like the God of the Soil and the Ground (Tu Di Gong), the God of Dreams (Zhou Gong), among many others.

Likewise, Confucius or Kung Fu Tze (551-479 BC), a renowned philosopher in China who emphasised personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity also grew a long beard. His thoughts received official sanction and were further developed into a system known as Confucianism. And until today, despite his death, his philosophical teachings are still practised by many.

Even in the kung fu movies that we watch, like 'Shaolin Master' for example, the men too grew long white beards. Another wushu hero in China, Wang Zi Ping (1881-1973), who is a Muslim, also grew a beard too. In fact, Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine in its July/August 2012 issue, published by TC Media Inc. in Freemont, CA, USA, featured a bearded kung fu warrior on its front cover.

In Europe, the mighty vikings also grew their beards, and so did English hero from Nottingham, Robin Hood, as with the Greek spartans. Besides the Muslims, the rabbis, Hindu monks and Sikhs also have beards. And so do the Orthodox priests, as well as Jesus Christ who is portrayed as a bearded man.

According to a Chinese friend, growing a beard illustrates that a person is old and mature. Perhaps that is why growing one is not really popular among the younger people as they perceive it to be unkempt and disheveled. Even Chinese celebrities and models hardly grow beards to maintain their clean cut image. However, all these notions are merely perceptions.

In a research titled "The Amazing Fact of Human Body", conducted by a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States, they found that a man's beard contains testosterone which can help a woman's fertility. It helps stabilise the menstrual cycle and encourage the growth of a woman's egg.

Similarly, a study by Dr Herbert Mescon, a scientist from Boston University in the U.S, also found that beards can protect the face from harmful molecules in the air that can damage cells and increase the risk of wrinkles and skin problems. Beards protect the skin and the sebaceous glands from being infected by acne vulgaris bacteria.

Physicist Professor Alfio Parisi from the University of Southern Queensland, has made a discovery about beards through his findings published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2012). He found that beards can protect the skin, with an estimated 90-95 per cent protection against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, simultaneously slowing down the aging process, as well as preventing skin cancer.

In the study, researchers used mannequins as the participants for the study — some had stick-on beards that ranged in one and a half to three and half inches in length and the rest were clean-shaven. The study confirm that the longer the hair, the better coverage, which means higher protection.

Likewise, Dr. De Fiori, dermatologist at the Rosacea Treatment Clinic in Melbourne, Australia, said, "A beard protects against skin cancer by blocking and absorbing UV light in the same manner as a physical sunscreen ingredient (i.e., zinc oxide or titanium dioxide)." Dr Nick Lowe a renowned dermatologist from London too had agreed with this finding.

A man’s tidiness and cleanliness should not be judged by his bearded apperance. As looks can be deceiving, even a person who is clean shaven can be unhygienic if he does not take care of himself well enough. Surely if a man’s beard is well maintained, he will look ‘clean’ and more ‘macho’.

For Muslims, growing a beard is a Sunnah (teaching) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and if a man lives by the Sunnah, God willing, he will be rewarded for it. In fact, every Prophet and apostle grew goatees and beards. This Sunnah has also been practiced by the Prophet’s companions, clerics and religious scholars.

There are several hadiths (narrations) regarding growing the beard. Among them:

"Trim the moustache and save the beard." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

"Be different from the Mushrikin (those who worship other than Allah); trim your moustaches and save your beards." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

A sign of true masculinity lies in the beard. The beard is God's gift to men. It distinguishes the appearance between both genders, even if a man is only blessed with a few strands of facial hair.

In saying which, this proves that growing a beard is not exclusive for a single religion or race only. History has it that the Chinese society in ancient China grew beards, and so did other great men around the world, regardless of religion.

The beard clearly has its own advantages and benefits for those who keep it according to researchers. So go on, grow that facial hair.


Johari Yap
Chairman of the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (MACMA), Kelantan Branch