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  • Chris McMillan

Seeing Beyond the Surface: A History of Blind Massage in Beijing

The Beijinger

19th February 2021

Seeing Beyond the Surface: A History of Blind Massage in Beijing

A good massage can be a boon for both body and soul, but can it benefit others, too? If you have spent any time in Beijing or other cities in China, you probably noticed buildings advertising 盲人按摩, mángrén ànmó "blind massage," and wondered a) why there are so many, and b) if the people giving the massages are actually blind. It turns out that in the latter half of the 20th century, massage became a preferred profession for people with limited vision.

According to the World Blind Union Asia Pacific, as of 2018, there were more than 17.5 million people with limited vision or blindness in China, making up one of the country’s largest disabled groups. Although disabled people in China receive legal and governmental support, and many industries have introduced diversity and inclusion policies, blind or low vision people still lack access to employment opportunities. To a certain extent, blind massage has become a route out of poverty and unemployment for some visually impaired people.

In China, massage as a career specifically targeted at the blind dates back to the 1950s. Massage practice was codified in the 1990s when the China Massage Association of Blind Practitioners was established in 1996.

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