Eyeball Scraping – The Vanishing Trade Practiced by Sichuan Barbers

Barbers in China’s Sichuan Province have practiced the art of eye-cleaning with a sharp blade for centuries. Like many other ancient traditions, this dangerous trade is slowly vanishing, but you can still find a few barbers willing to scrape your eyeballs with a knife for as little as RMB5 ($0.80).

According to an old Sichuan saying, cleaning the eyes makes the beauty of life more visible, and some people are prepared to go under the knife to make sure they don’t miss a thing. Nicknamed “knife-blade eye cleaning”, the practice of scraping a person’s eyeballs and eyelids with sharp utensils has been a part of Chinese culture ever since ancient times. The craft was supposedly popularized by brothers Zhou Chengfu and Zhou Chengyin, who followed their father’s footsteps and excelled in the technique of servicing the eyeballs, ears and necks of clients, but in recent years it has almost died out. Still, if you look hard enough, you can still find eye-cleaning stands even in modern cities like Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu. 53-year-old Liu Deyuan has been successfully running his small eye-cleaning business for 7 years, offering a head shave and an eye scrape for just RMB5. With many long-term clients lining up to get their eyes cleaned every month, the skilled barber says business is still pretty good.

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Be fore he starts scraping away at his clients’ eyes, Liu rinses his sharp blade in the same water he uses to shave their heads. He holds their eyes open with his left hand while using the right one to guide the knife back and forth on the inside of their eyelids and then on the eyeball. He then grabs a metal rod, inserts it under the person’s upper eyelid and slides it left and right like a windshield wiper. He repeats the process for the lower eyelid, and when he’s done, Liu moves to the other eye. The whole eye-scraping process takes about 5 minutes, and by the end, the client’s face is streaming with tears. 55-year-old Peng, one of the barber’s most loyal customers, says he doesn’t dare move a muscle while Liu is working his magic, but that afterwards his eyes feel much better.

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And if plunging sharp tools inside someone’s eye sockets wasn’t dangerous enough, there’s also the issue of improper hygiene. Liu Deyuan uses the same knife for all his services (haircuts, shaves and eye scraping), and the rod is used for several clients during the day, as he only disinfects his tools at night, by leaving them in a bowl of alcohol.  Most of his customers don’t seem to mind, however, and say in all the years they’ve used his services they’ve never had a problem.

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Liu told reporters from the Chengdu Business Daily newspaper that he started studying the art of eyeball scraping when he was 17, and trained for three years before practicing it on paying customers. He has never once slipped up and says the secret lies in the strength and flexibility of his wrist and steadiness of the hand.

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If you thought water was enough to clean the eyes thoroughly, think again…

Photos via QQ


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