In olden times up to and including the Ming Dynasty this was called “shu hsi” or “mouse theatricals”. It was later called “shua hao tzu” which term means “to play with mice”.
The man carries a box slung over his shoulder on which is fixed a pole with a round disk near the top. Several small flags are stuck on the top of the pole for ornaments. The disk has holes in it and from it runs a rope ladder to the box. On the disk are generally the following:–
(1) Small pagoda.
(2) Small temple.
(3) Wooden peach with hole in it.
(4) Bucket hung on a string.
(5) Wooden fish hung on a string.
(6) Revolving wheel.
(7) Wooden stock to go around neck like used in olden times for punishment.
When the mouse man goes along the streets he blows on a small horn called a “so na”. This is a foot three and a half inches in height and was originally brought to China from Annam. It is one of the instruments seen in all kinds of Chinese musical groups and is used in the theater, wedding and funeral processions, and by Buddhist and Taoist priests.
When called into a compound to perform, the mouse man opens drawers in which are several mice in cotton nests. These mice climb the ladder, pull up the bracket and fish, run around the wheel and crawl through the peach, pagoda and temple. The trainer sings and taps the ox with a small stick which he sometimes uses to direct the mice around. Each mouse has his specialty and when finished is put back in his box and another taken out and put through his paces.
After the mice have performed, the mouse man will ask what tunes you would like to hear and he then plays them on his small horn. The “so na” has a very small reed mouthpiece. There are seven holes on the front and one on the back. The one on the back lets the surplus air out. The seven on the front correspond to the seven notes of the Chinese musical scale which are as follows:–