Calls and sounds of the Peking street peddlers

Paintings of street sellers and descriptions of their cries and jingles from Samuel Victor Constant's Calls, Sounds and Merchandise of the Peking Street Peddlers, written in 1936 as a master's thesis at the College of Chinese Studies.


In the cooler weather these peddlers make a specialty of selling “t’ang hu lu erh”. These are sticks of wood on which are stuck pieces of fruit and other articles that have been covered with a thick sugar syrup which has crystalized. At this time of the year the peddler wears heavier clothing and this enables him to carry on his person a “chien t’ung” for gambling. This article is a short piece of hollow bamboo about two inches in diameter and nine inches long over one end of which is stretched a piece of leather or horsehair. Inside are thirty-two small sticks each having a certain number of dots on them in the same manner as do the “ku p’ai”, explained under the heading of the “Jew’s harp peddler”.

The peddler shakes the tube and the sticks jump around. Formerly leather was used on the bottom of the tube and the sound of the sticks brought other customers. Whenever the police make one of their periodic drives against gambling the leather is replaced with a piece of horsehair which serves the same purpose of making the sticks jump up and down but is noiseless.

There are many ways of gambling with this device and one is described below:

The customer places a bet of five double coppers – each piece being worth two coppers. He then announces that he will draw “pan t’ung” – half tube or “man t’ung” – whole tube. Suppose the first method is used then the customer draws three sticks at each draw for four draws and four sticks for one draw. This makes a total of sixteen sticks or “pan t’ung”. After each draw the dots on the end of the sticks are compared and if three pairs appear then the remaining dots are counted. If these total from ten to thirteen and it was agreed that “hsiao tien erh” was to be used, the customer wins. If the dots total fourteen or above and it was previously agreed that “ta tien erh” was to be used, the customer also wins. In each case a win entitles the customer to one “t’ang hu lu (erh)”. The maximum he can win is five “t’ang hu lu” which are worth five double coppers, but of course it is very rare that the customer wins every time. The odds are on the side of the peddler.

This method of gambling for the “t’ang hu lu” has become an established custom and while gambling for other articles the peddler sells is sometimes done, one always thinks of it in connection with the former. The children enjoy this game and learn it at an early age, thus getting an introduction into the art of gambling which is so much a part of Chinese life. All things in China are a matter of chance and this little game with the sticks in a bamboo tube is typical of the entire outlook on life of the Chinese people.