Chinese father takes ‘shameful’ ear-picker job to pay for daughter’s cancer treatment

When Chen Zhi became one of Chengdu’s ear pickers, she was glad she could earn money for her family. But once she was diagnosed with cancer, her father took up her trade

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 10:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 2:30pm

When Chen Zhi became one of Chengdu’s ear pickers almost three years ago, she was delighted that she could finally shoulder some of her parents’ financial burden.

These days, it is instead her father who roams the tea houses and public parks of the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province, offering his services for 60 yuan (US$9.20) a session.

Carrying the fine instruments of his trade, and with a headlamp for illumination, Chen Xiaolin removes ear wax and “massages” the ear canals of his customers. It is work he found “shameful” at the start, but he has pressed on – his daughter is counting on him.

A year ago, Chen Zhi was diagnosed with intestinal cancer at just 32 years old. “My family didn’t tell me at first. My mum said nothing to me. But I overheard the word ‘chemo’ when she was talking to the doctor,” she told the South China Morning Post.

Since she fell ill, the family has spent 120,000 yuan (US$18,500) on her treatment. “For a family like ours, 120,000 yuan is really a lot,” she explained.

Her father has continued the job that illness forced her to stop. The 54-year-old former village teacher, who his daughter describes as “very shy”, initially found becoming an ear picker a struggle. “In the beginning, he thought about giving up several times. He wanted to quit,” Chen Zhi said.

But, for his family, Chen Xiaolin endures. He said: “In the very beginning, I thought it was shameful to pick ears. I found it very difficult to communicate with others.

“Gradually, I got used to it. For my family, I have to stand up. We need money to live. So, no matter how difficult it is, I have to do what I’m supposed to do. It’s life. I have to face it and support my family.”

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On Chengdu’s streets, Chen Xiaolin faces rejection from people who see him as a kind of nuisance and bad weather. When it rains, business drops to nearly zero.

Chen Zhi does what she can to help. “I can cook for my father, so he can eat well.”

Her father worries that, if her condition worsens, the family will need more money. “So he thinks it’s better that he earns some more now,” she added.

But Chen Xiaolin believes his daughter will once again pick up her tools: “She will come back to work, when she is in good health.”

That faith helps. “I can feel the confidence from him, it motivates me to get better,” Chen Zhi said.