In China, barbers used to traditionally operate on street sides. Only in modern times has customer privacy become a thing in barbershops. Nowadays, only a few street barbers remain in China, most of the old-timers who just keep on doing what they’ve been doing for a long time. But when they finally retire, it’ll be the end of an era and there will no longer be any street barbers.
Street barbers were first documented in China in the 14th century. Many of these barbers were travelers, setting up shop in places they visited. They used to cut hair, shave faces, and clean the ears with tools like scissors, tweezers, brushes, and razors, all of which were stored in a wooden box. Today, street barbers are largely old people whose customers also tend to be the older sections of society.
“They are old in age, old in style, and seemingly equipped with nothing more than a rickety chair and a squeaky pair of scissors. They are a true throwback to a bygone era. Don’t come here expecting the latest trends (there’s a reason why the typical clientele are of more advanced age). Don’t expect nice, comfy surroundings either. Economical and efficient is what you can expect. What you see is very much what you get with the street barber,” according to Lord Hair.
Interestingly, the Chinese barbers that work in the street share a strong similarity to the Western shoe shiners of the past century who used to polish shoes by the roadside. Today, people would consider it barbaric to have someone bow down and clean their shoes in public. The same is the case with street barbers in China.