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.


These peddlers are seen on the streets during the four warmer months of the year. They carry a small box about two and a half feet long, one foot wide and two feet high slung over their shoulders. The box has two small drawers in the top and the bottom has two doors which open like the standard Chinese cabinet.

In the center of the cabinet top is fastened a round stick about two and a half feet long. At to the top of this is a cross bar from which are sprung eight twisted strands or cord – four on each of the supporting stick. These cords run from the cross bar to the top of the box and have several hundred small bells fastened to them. As the fan peddler walks along with his box swung over his shoulder the sound of the bells tells everyone that the fan man is coming.

The fan peddler sells the bamboo frames for fans – “shan ku tzu” and also the paper “shan mien tzu” to paste on the frames. These articles are of the cheaper grades and one must go to stores for the more expensive. These stores are called “nan chih p’u” or “southern paper stores” as the good grade paper of all kinds and fans come from South China.

In addition to selling frames and “shan mien tzu”, these peddlers can repair fans. He is an expert at fixing the “shan chou tzu” or fan axle or hinge. This is a small round piece of cow’s horn – “niu chiao” which pins the fan sticks together and upon which they rotate. The ends of this must be heated and crimped just right, otherwise the fan sticks will not move properly. This he does by means of a small pair of pliers which have two small holes in the jaws to take the “chou tzu” or fan axle. The pliers are heated to just the right temperature by means of a small charcoal brazier carried in his box. When the pliers are warm enough he places the horn pin in the fan sticks and crimps the ends with the heated pliers, the heat just melting enough of the horn to make a double headed rivet.