In Chinese culture, families typically introduce their newborn to the world with a celebration to mark Baby’s first month. Some parents also choose to shave Baby’s head on that day, and have this foetal hair made into a Chinese calligraphy brush, which is known as ‘tai mao bi’. Many local celebrity parents such as Zoe Tay, Chen Tianwen, Huang Biren and Vivian Lai have had ‘tai mao bi’ made for their little ones.
Lesley Goh, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mum whose baby girl has just turned one, says that she was even recommended a list of phrases to be engraved on a pair of ‘tai mao bi’ made from her hair. “My hubby and I chose 一笔亲情, 一生相随, which means a measure of kinship following you for life, with the word for ‘measure’ being a pun on the word for ‘brush’. We hope that this brush will remind her of how much we love her and will always be by her side.”
Baby’s First Taste of Culture Power
Image of ‘tai mao bi’ set: Huaxia Taimaobi Centre Facebook page
Also known as “zhuang yuan bi” or scholar’s brush, this is a meaningful souvenir of a time in a person’s life that lasts only a short while, but which can be forever encapsulated in a keepsake. While not many people today do traditional Chinese calligraphy with a paintbrush, it is said that having a ‘tai mao bi’ displayed in a child’s study or bedroom bodes well for their studies and even their career later in life.
This age-old practice can be traced back to the Tang dynasty and has slowly been taking root here in Singapore, gaining popularity over the last 10 years. As Lisa Zhang, Director at Huaxia Taimaobi Centre, notes, “We have about 600 little customers monthly, more than 20 per cent of the whole nation’s newborns.”
“Since we started this service in 2003, more than 80,000 local babies own a total of over 120,000 brushes. As some babies have a lot of hair even at their first haircut, their parents decide to have more than one brush made,” she elaborates.
Even parents who don’t actually subscribe to such beliefs find it a unique and truly personal memento of their child’s early life, not unlike baby hand or footprints sealed in clay.
“While most are Chinese babies, more and more Malay and Indian parents also make ‘tai mao bi’ as a souvenir for their kids. Even western people like this service now. We handle many orders from Europe and America by post,” remarks Ms Zhang.
Furthermore, baby’s first crop of hair is extra soft, flexible, and has naturally tapered ends – this no longer exists once it has been cut – making for a high quality brush. Quite literally, this is something that only happens a once in a lifetime! In fact, it is said that many artists throughout history have used paint brushes made from human hair, with ‘tai mao bi’ commanding the highest price and demand.
Making Baby’s ‘Tai Mao Bi’
Parents simply have to make an appointment with their choice of ‘tai mao bi’ service provider, who will then drop by their home on the morning of their baby’s first month celebration to perform his or her first haircut.
Sales manager Li Cui Ling, 29, reveals that it was her mother-in-law who insisted that her grandson get his done on his actual one month old day. “I was a worried that he would fuss and get hurt in the process, but the person used a new shaver specially made for babies, and was very gentle. It turned out to be a very meaningful experience to kick start his first month party,” she recalls.
The collected hair will then be brought back to the workshop and painstakingly incorporated into ‘tai mao bi’, handcrafted by master artisans using the parent’s choice of materials, designs and styles, before delivery or collection upon completion.
Some parents prefer to wait till the baby reaches four months old to do this, which is typically when baby will naturally lose that foetal hair. However, there is no fixed date or specified time; it is more about individual preference. The home is also the recommended place to have the hair cut or shaved for the first time, as this is where baby will feel most comfortable. The haircut usually comes free with purchase of the ‘tai mao bi’.
Choices of wood used for the body of the brush include sandalwood, ebony and rosewood. Prices of a basic brush can start at just $38, while more complicated carving and engraving with ornate display boxes or frames can increase the price range to the hundreds. Parents can also choose to have the excess hair embedded within other types of souvenirs, such as jewellery or crystal ornaments.
Huaxia Taimaobi Centre has a branch at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and another located just opposite Thomson Medical Centre on Thomson Road. Another popular choice is Huatsing Baby Souvenir – you can visit their showroom in Woodlands or have the staff visit you with samples at your convenience.