What is it? A Chinese wooden barbers stool from days past

chinese wooden barber stool

I just came across this fascinating lecture by John Lawson Stoddard who was an American writer and lecturer who traveled the world in the mid to late 1800’s and gained popularity through his travel writings. In series 13 of his lectures upon visiting Canton, he describes the role of a Chinese barber and includes a picture in which can be seen a  similar wooden barbers stool.

Occasionally we discovered in these streets an itinerant barber. These Chinese Figaros carry their outfits with them. First in importance comes a bamboo pole, which is the immemorial badge of their profession. To this is usually attached one solitary towel, – free to every customer. From one extremity of this pole hangs a small brass basin, together with a charcoal stove for heating water; the other end is balanced by a wooden cabinet, which serves the patient as a seat during the operation, and contains razors, lancets, tweezers, files, and other surgical instruments.

chinese wooden barbers bench - stool

It matters not where one of these tonsorial artists practises his surgery.

A temple court, a flight of steps, a street, or a back-yard, are quite the same to him. He takes his queue where he can find it. One of his commonest duties is to braid that customary appendage to a Chinaman’s head, without which he would be despised. It is comical to estimate the thousands of miles of Chinese queues which even one barber twists in the course of his career – enough, if tied together, end to end, to form a cable between Europe and America. Yet this singular style of hair-dressing (now so universal) was introduced into China only two hundred and fifty years ago. Before that time the Chinese wore full heads of hair, and the present fashion of shaved crowns and twisted queues is of Tartar origin, and was imposed by a conquering dynasty as a badge of servitude.

The wearing of a mustache in China is an indication that he whose face it adorns is a grandfather. In fact, until he is forty-five years old, a Chinaman usually shaves his face completely; but this fact does not prove that after that time he can dispense with the services of a barber. For the tonsorial art in China is exceedingly varied; and Chinese barbers not only braid the queue; they also shave the eyebrows, clean the ears, pull teeth, and massage. Moreover, they scrape the inside of their victim’s eyelids – a custom which is believed by foreigners to be the cause of much of the ophthalmia in China.

Note that the stool pictured above is a reproduction from ebay, as I was too lazy to dig out one of our photos of a real ones. 😛

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7 Comment

  1. william fulton says:

    I have a very unique piece of furniture. Oriental? Very nicely hand carved dragon chair(emperors,masters) with 12 or 13 dragons carved completely through the wood chair,and it has a sawn slab of thick jade as the seat. The carvings are well done and it is a very sturdy and heavy chair. An old Chinese guy looked it over good and said it is definitely authentic and from possibly the 30s to 50s. I desperately need help identifying this piece of furniture and would like to put it on the market eventually. I hoped you could give me some info on this piece. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much. I will send you pics of it later.

  2. David says:

    Please email the link to see your chair please.
    I have a chair approx mid 1700’s, have a look as well at spoonerphotography.com under Qianlong

  3. Roger says:

    interesting chair.. not sure if its mid 17th century though. Don’t see much age on it.

  4. Jo says:

    I was just reading your entry about the Chinese wooden barber stools. I have a pair… but how do I know if they are reproductions or antiques? Is there anyway of knowing? It is wooden, almost similar in design to the one in the picture, but lighter wood. Also has 2 drawers, one that pulls out to the side and one that pulls out to the front. It looks quite worn. Bought in Beijing. I can send a picture… please let me know how.

  5. Roger says:

    signs of wear and tear are always a good place to start….

  6. Francis says:

    How much does it cost to buy one of this great antiques?
    Chinese stool

  7. Roger says:

    no easy answer to this since it seems the price of genuine Chinese antiques are really rising each year…

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