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.


The man is called an almanac peddler but he also sells the small leaflets containing songs or rhymes called “ch’ang pen erh”. The almanacs are in demand from about the tenth month of the year through the first month of the following year. During this time the peddler calls out – “Huang li, ta pen erh huang li” or “Almanacs, complete almanacs”.

The complete almanacs have thirty-two pages and contain all sorts of information. Among the subjects covered may be mentioned –

1. Rain table – which depends on the number of dragons available each year to look after the water; if only one dragon the rainfall will be great, if the maximum of six dragons are available, then a dry year is forecast.
2. Notes and photographs of most prominent Chinese officials.
3. Tables for telling fortunes by the different arrangement of six coins.
4. Table of characters which may be written and burned to cure minor ailments.
5. Signs of the zodiac (Chinese system).
6. Meaning of certain dreams.
7. Fortune telling tables.
8. Horoscope table using the nine great stars.
9. Description of the modern marriage ceremony.
10. Table showing colors of clothes suitable for the year.
11. Tables showing each month and day and telling the days suitable for weddings, funerals, inviting guests, repairing houses, taking medicine, planting crops, visiting friends and in fact covering every phase of Chinese life.

During the months of the year when this peddler does not sell almanacs he makes his living by peddling small pamphlets which contain rhymes or songs which are sung on the streets – many of them quite vulgar. The peddler will teach the approximate song to any who buy the words.