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The red flags of the barber shops
The red flags of the barber shops
In 1368AD Zhu Yuan-Zhang founded the Ming Dynasty
(1368AD to 1644AD). He installed himself as Emperor Tai Zu and
established his capital in Ying Tian Fu (present day Nanjing
city in Zhejiang province).
Zhu Yuan-Zhang was born into a very poor family. His parents
and elder brother died of epidemic diseases when he was only a
young boy. As he had no relatives to go to he became a monk in a
temple. Shortly after he had small-pox and suffered from purulent
ulcer on his head. The small-pox left him with permenant pock
marks on his face, but the ulcer on his head had never been cured.
Once in a blue moon when it was swollen it discharged pus. Under
this condition he needed a barber to shave off the hair from the
After he had become an Emperor Zhu Yuan-Zhang engagged many
physicians to cure the ulcer, but of no avail. The barbers who
were employed to shave his hair had to be very careful not to hurt
him or draw blood from his scalp otherwise they would be punished
by beating or even ended up in jail. Zhu Yuan-Zhang had chastised
many a barber for their clumsy techniques.
Chong Loy was a roadside poor barber who was very skilful and
efficient with his profession. He worked extremely hard as he had
to support a family; his wife, Ah Lien and three kids.
One day, an Imperial Guard from the Palace came to see Chong Loy.
The Guard told him to go to the Palace to cut the Emperor's hair the
next day in the morning. Chong Loy perceived that trouble was coming
to him because he knew he could be like other barbers who were
punished by the Emperor for being butterfingered in their shavings.
Although he was excelled in his job he was afraid that he might make
mistake this time.
That evening, at dinner time he told his wife to prepare for the
worst because tomorrow he was going to the Palace to cut the Emperor's
hair. He could be punished if he did not do a good job. His wife told
him to pray to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, for protection.
After dinner he sharpened his razor again and again. He set a table
with some food and wine in front of the house. He placed the razor on
the table and burned some incensed papers and joss sticks. He prayed,
"Guan Yin, please help me as I am going to give the
Emperor a hair cut, tomorrow.
I will be punished if he displease with my work.
Please help me through".
By coincidence an immortal called Han Xiang-Zi, one of the eight
immortals whom the Chinese believed, flew over city of Ying Tian Fu at
that time and heard some one crying for help. He stopped and saw Chong
Loy prostrating before a table. The immortal decided to help Chong Loy.
That night Han Xiang-Zi went into Chong Loy's dream and told him,
"Don't worry Chong Loy. Tomorrow when you arrive at the Palace's
gate you will meet a man who looks exactly like you and carries
the same kind of tools as yours. As soon as you see this man you
must go quickly and hide in the garden. Every thing will be allright".
The next morning Chong Loy related to his wife what he had dreamed.
Ah Lien was very happy and told her husband to have faith on the
immortal. Hurrying he had his breakfast and in no time he was on his
way to the Palace.
At the Palace's gate he met a man who looked exactly like him
carrying the same kind of tools as his. His double smiled to him and
there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Quickly, Chong Loy went
and hid in the garden. He saw his double walked passed the guards and
went inside the Palace.
Inside the Palace the Emperor was waiting for him. Chong Loy's double
bowed to the Emperor and ordered towels and hot water to be brought to
him. He told the Emperor that he was not only a good barber but he could
also cure his ulcer. The Emperor was very please as his ulcer had given
him a lot of troubles since he was a boy.
As Chong Loy's double shaved Emperor's hair he applied a kind of
magical cream to the ulcer. The Emperor did not feel any pain at all
and there was no blood being drawn from his scalp. The Emperor was
very pleased with the steady hand of Chong Loy's double.
After the shaving was done and his ulcer was cured for good the
Emperor was overjoyed. He wanted to reward Chong Loy's double with
gold and silver. However, Chong Loy's double did not accept them but
only asked for an imperial red flag which the Emperor gladly obliged.
On returning to Chong Loy's house the Han Xiang-Zi told Chong Loy
not to work on roadside but at his own house. He told Chong Loy to fix
the imperial red flag on top of the entrance of the house.
>From that day onwards many customers were drawn to his house by the
imperial red flag. His business prospered. Other barbers were jealous
of him and they also fixed red flags on top of the doors in their
business premises. Generations later it had become a tradition through
More than 500 years later in 1924AD when the civil war between the
Nationalists and the Communists had started all the barbers pulled
down their red flags because red flags had become the norm of Communism.
As the Nationalist Government was trying to destroy the Communists it
would arrest any one who possessed a red flag. Within a few weeks all
the red flags disappeared from the barber shops through out the country.
CHUNG Yoon-Ngan. firstname.lastname@example.org,com.au