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 English translation of the name for these peddlers is again inadequate to describe them and what they sell. These peddlers are seen from the first to the fifth day of the fifth moon – “wu yueu wu”. They come out from the large cake stores with a “t’iao tzu” on one end of which is hung a willow wood box (“yuan lung”) and the other a wooden tray.

They call out “chaing mi ti, chung tzu ai” or “Here are chung tzu made of glutinous rice”.

The “chung tzu” is a doughy article composed of glutinous rice, fruit or dates and a little bacon. A small pyramid shaped lump of glutinous rice is taken a hole made in it. Into the hole is placed a little fruit or dates and the small piece of bacon. The whole is then wrapped in reed leaves (bamboo leaves in South China), tied with string and boiled in a large vessel of water. After being cooked about an hour the bundles are taken out and cooled. Then they are ready for sale.

The “chung tzu”, or “tseng tzu” as it is known in the South, looks like a small four pointed bundle of reed leaves when sold. Of course the leaves are unwrapped and the small pyramid-like mass is eaten.

The origin of the “chung tzu” is connected with Ch’u Yuan, a loyal minister of the Kingdom of Ch’u, now Hunan and Hupeh Provinces. He was a great favourite until displayed by an unworthy rival. After this he wrote a poem called “Li Sao” to warn his ruler. The warning was disregarded and the Prince Ch’u captured in the war ensuing with the Kingdom of Ch’in. Ch’u Yuan lost favor with the next ruler and, clasping a large stone, jumped into the Mi Lo River, B.C. 295.

In after years in memory of this loyal minister the people took to wrapping up food and dropping it into the river in the place where Ch’u Yuan drowned himself. This custom led to the making of the “chung tzu” or food bundle cakes for the Dragon Boat Festival held on the fifth day of the fifth moon to commemorate the death of Ch’u Yuan.