Eye cleaning [洗眼睛 xǐ yǎnjīng] is an ancient trade practiced by Sichuan barbers. But don’t assume that “eye cleaning” refers to using fluids to wash the eyes. The procedure is quite scary: the barber uses a knife to scrape customers’ eyeballs. 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.
Nicknamed “knife-blade eye cleaning” [刀锋洗眼 dāofēng xǐyǎn], this disappearing trade was witnessed recently in a small park in Chengdu.
There is an old saying in Sichuan, that cleaning the eyes renders the beauty in life visible.
And some people in Chengdu like to clean their eyes, literally.
Eye cleaning is an ancient craft in the same vein as ear picking. Unlike the latter, though, eye cleaning has almost died out.
But it’s not totally gone. Eye cleaner Liu Deyuan, 53, has operated an eye-cleaning stand in a small park near Wufuqiao Dong Lu for 7 years. He offers a head and face shave plus an eye cleaning for RMB5.
Business is good — most of his customers are long-term residents of the nearby communities who queue up every month for Liu’s services.
Liu Deyuan used some water to rinse off the knife he had just used to shave Peng’s head and pulled up a stool. Using his fingers to hold open Peng’s eyelids, Liu scraped the blade back and forth over the eyelid and then the eyeball. Then he took out another tool, a small rod, which he placed in Peng’s eye, sliding it back and forth in Peng’s upper eyelid like a windshield wiper. He repeated the process on the lower eyelid. When the left eye was done, he did the whole thing again on the right eye. The whole process took about 5 minutes, and by the end, Peng’s face was streaming with tears.
When asked about their lack of concern over the safety of the eye-cleaning procedure, or about hygiene, most customers expressed non-concern: A 97-year-old customer said he had been having his eyes cleaned for many years and had never had a problem.
Peng, 55, admitted to a feeling of apprehension every time he goes under the knife, so to speak. He says he dares not move a muscle, but that afterward his eyes feel much better.
Liu added that he soaks his tools in alcohol every night for disinfection.
The knife is used for all of Liu’s services: haircuts, shaves, and eyeball cleaning. The rod is used over and over in customers’ eyes and disinfected with alcohol only at night.
Liu is from Mianyang but has lived in Chengdu for more than a decade. He started studying the craft of eye cleaning when he was 17 and trained for 3 years before he put it into actual practice. In all these years, he’s never slipped up.
He said the secret is in the strength and flexibility of the wrist and steadiness of the hand.
Image courtesy of QQ.