27th June 2022
Lockdown leaves a blind spot in the income of many masseurs
By Li Qian Zhou Anna
Small businesses in China are the backbone of employment and prosperity. But size can be a drawback when hard times hit. This series explores the consequences of lockdown on the sector.
As dusk falls, masseur Huang Fujian and his workmates link arms and make their way to the intersection of Fengxian and Nanhui roads, only a few minutes' walk away from their massage parlor.
They walk briskly down narrow alleyways, and from outward appearances, it would be difficult to believe they are blind or otherwise visually impaired.
With folding chairs placed in a line against a tall flowerbed and disinfectant sprayed all around, their pop-up, open-air massage parlor is ready for business.
"Only 29.9 yuan (US$4.50) for a half-hour massage," they call out to passers-by.
"Business was slack today," Huang told Shanghai Daily while waiting for customers last Thursday night. "We were busy in the previous days; there was even a queue for massages."
That night, however, it was a full 15 minutes before the first customer came.
Huang blamed the heat. Fair enough. That afternoon, the high temperature exceeded 37 degrees Celsius in downtown areas, triggering this year's first orange heat alert. But that didn't deter loyal customers like a man surnamed Gu.
"I live nearby and I always come here for a walk after dinner," the retiree explained. "I saw them on the street once and tried a massage. It felt good. They are quite professional."
His favorite of the group is Tang Hui, who has since given him massages three or four times.
"I enjoy giving customers massage in the open air," she said, noting that it also provides free advertising for the service.
Like so many businesses in Shanghai, the masseurs are trying to recoup losses after the city's two-month lockdown.
It's no secret that the recent resurgence of coronavirus left many businesses at a standstill. Shanghai's industrial output nosedived by 61.5 percent in April from a year earlier, the sharpest slump in more than a decade. Retail sales posted a decline of 48.3 percent.
Though the city has broadly reopened since June 1, many businesses are still struggling to regain their footing. Huang and his colleagues work at the Ganzhi Blind Massage parlor.
Blind massage is popular in China, amid a belief that the loss of eye sight endows masseurs with heightened other senses.
Ganzhi, one of Shanghai's most reputable blind massage parlors, has been in operation for nearly 20 years. It has 27 addresses listed on Dazhong Dianping, China's version of Yelp.
Despite that sprawling network, the business has been overwhelmed by financial pressures and personnel loss, according to Chen Liang, manager of Huang's parlor.