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"Chinese Barbers" Abel's Narrative of a Journey in China, 1827




No circumstance arrests the eye of a stranger in the cities of China more than the great number of barbers, who are met with in the streets, and form a considerable portion of every crowd. Why they are so numerous is readily explained by a reference to the universal custom among the Chinese of shaving all but the crown of their head, and of eradicating every straggling hair from the face; especially from the ears, eyes and nostrils; and to their practice of shampooing: a single operation, consequently, occupying so much time, that one man cannot serve many employers in a day. The barbers carry about with them all the necessary implements of their avocation: a stool, a small furnace, water, razors, and brushes, comprised in two small stands, suspended from the two ends of a bamboo, supported across the shoulders. Besides these, they have a variety of small instruments, made of white copper, the forms of which tell little of their appropriate uses. I could only observe that they were flourished with great rapidity about the face of the patient. They were probably used in the process of shampooing, of which the following curious account is given by one who underwent it:--"Shampooing is an operation not known in Europe; and is peculiar to the Chinese, which I had since the curiosity to go through, and for which I paid but a trifle. However, had I not seen several China merchants shampooed before me, I should have been very apprehensive of danger, even at the sight of all the different instruments that were arranged in proper order on the table, before the operator began. He first placed me in a large chair; then began to beat with both his hands very fast upon all parts of my body. He next stretched out my arms and legs, and gave them several sudden pulls that racked my joints; then got my arm upon his shoulder, and hauled me sideways a good way over the chair, and as suddenly gave my neck a twitch or jerk round, that I thought he would have put my head out of joint. Next, he beat, with the ends of his fingers, very softly, but very quickly, all over my head, body, and legs, every now and then cracking his fingers with an air; then he stroked up my ears, temples, and eye-lashes; and again racked my joints. After he had gone through this process, he proceeded with his instruments to scrape, pick, and syringe my ears, every now and then tinkling with an instrument close to my ears. The next thing was my eyes, into which I patiently suffered several small instruments to be thrust and turned about, by which operation he brought away half a tea-cup full of hot waterish stuff. He next proceeded to scraping, paring, and cleaning the nails of my fingers and toes and then to cutting my corns. I only wanted to have had a lock of hair plaited to complete the operation. But after he had spent half an hour with me, it ended here, for which I gave him to the value of a penny. He departed well satisfied, and afterward called several mornings.

Their razors (see the prefixed engraving) looked clumsy and inconvenient; but I can state from experience, that their edge is keen, and that they are used by expert manipulators. At the commencement of an illness that required the shaving of my head, I was induced by commit myself to the hands of a Chinese barber, and at a more advanced period of my disorder, put myself under another of the fraternity, after suffering from the inferior skill of one of my countrymen.
--Abel's Narrative of a Journey in China.

The Casket, Flowers of Literature, Wit, and Sentiment
Issue No. 5
Saturday, March 10, 1827
Publisher -- S.C. Atkinson : Philadelphia
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Great bit of histoyr, but I was cringing at the mention of the eyes...I'd rather not know what exactly he was doing.


A follow up is probably more appropriate in The Barber Shop, but I wonder if anyone else has an interest in old literature, particularly in papers and magazines.

The following might explain why I was reading this magazine. The Casket was purchased by George Rex Graham and merged with Burton's Gentleman's Magazine at the end of 1840 to form Graham's Magazine. Edgar Allan Poe was editor of Graham's Magazine from 1940 to 1942, after which he started his own magazine, The Stylus, which failed. He was also a contributor to all of these.

I'll post any other relevant stuff I find. There's one on hair dressers that I didn't bother with because it's about the traveling kind that visits ladies homes and has a parlor to receive ladies, not the kind (of barber) that keeps a spiffy clean shop with brushes and fine smelling soaps.
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