iChongqing Title

Audible | The Disappearing Profession: Shoe-Shiners


Editor’s Note: This article is produced in collaboration with the Chongqing Institute of Foreign Studies.

In 1993, the skit named "shoeshine" got the third prize in the competition of the Spring Festival Gala show, which told a story that a pretentious shoe-shiner hired a nanny who was finally found to work as a shoe-shiner, too and then they felt much compatibility with each other. Huanghong, the director of this skit, was inspired by his own experience of paying fifty cents to have shoes shone on the street during the performance in Chongqing.

"Hey lady, wanna shining your shoes? Hey Laoshi(Mister), what about some brushing?" This is what the shoe-shiners in Chongqing would ask in an enthusiastic manner at any bus stops or the gate of malls with a toolbox in their hands. Once the customers agree to shine their shoes, the shoe-shiners will kindly ask them to sit on the provided chair, while they squat on the toolbox and start brushing. For the convenience of shoe-shining, they always keep their heads down. This kind of "Customer-centric" position of sitting would make customers feel a great sense of superiority which is beyond description.

The common impression of shoe-shiners is that they are always accidentally stained with various kinds of shoe polish on their clothes, their fingers are rough and cracked-open due to the exposure to strong and pungent disinfectants all year round, they are craftsmen who work hard yet make little money every day.

In the last 70s, not many people wore leather shoes so there were fewer people who needs shoe polishing. After the reform and opening up, people have increasingly improved their quality of life, many industries also require that employees should wear leather shoes on formal occasions. Consequently, the leather shoe manufacturing industry has risen and more people started to wear leather shoes, which made the shoe-shining business bloom and flourish.

Clean cotton cloth, shoe brush, various colors of shoe polish, shoe cleaner, a toolbox for the shoe-shiner to sit on and store tools, and a chair for customers, these are the necessary tools for the shoe-shiners to do their work. Some shoe-shiners would also buy a copy of the newspaper that day for customers to kill the time while shining shoes.

Shoe-shining has been an old profession, it looks easy but it also requires patience and carefulness. The edges of leather shoes are most likely to gather dust or mud, and if they can not be cleaned in time, the edge will crack or the leather will be worn due to the gathering of dirt. So the shoe-shiners would use a cotton cloth to wipe out the dust and then brush the edge carefully. If the shoes are dirty, shoe-shiners would use the damp cloth dipped in a special cleaner and wipe the shoes elaborately, then set the "brand-new" shoes aside to dry and carefully select the right color shoe polish and apply it delicately.

Times are changing; people’s passion for leather shoes is gradually decreasing. With the development of science and technology, the automatic shoe-shining machine could provide faster and cheaper service, and the image of the shoe-shining or polishing may become a memory in people’s minds. However, they will always remain the symbol of the continuous change and development of a city as the fact that migrant workers have been displaced to work in cities for a living is reflected in the skit shoeshine.

Chinese script: Caiting Huang
Tutored by: Xi Jing

Translation: Kang Wan
Tutored by: Siying Lu and Jun Jiang

Voice-over: Qiqi Deng
Tutored by: Dandan Xing


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