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.


This man like many of the other street peddlers has a “t’iao tzu” which consists of two wooden boxes slung from the ends of a pole carried on the shoulders. On one of these he has a small gong which swings back and forth as he walks and is hit by two brass pendulums which also swing free. This makes the well known sound of the china mender or “Chu wan erh ti” as the Chinese say.

These men formerly carried a small stove and soldered small brass articles, repaired locks, etc. They used to be called “hsiao lu chiang” or “the small stove workmen”. This is even now their real name though since about 1900 they have almost all ceased to carry stoves and do brass work.

Their common name is “chu wan erh ti” or “bowl mender”, and in this they are very expert. They can repair almost any kind of china or glass article. They do this by means of small metal clips or rivets made from iron or brass wire.

The broken article is first put into its original shape and bound when possible with string. The peddler then takes his very primitive hand drill, on which he uses a small bow, and drills one hole on either side of the crack. He next uses one of his small clips or rivets which he hammers into the two holes. This process is continued all along the break. When the job is finished the plate or bowl is as good as new – unless you look on the underside of it. The uninitiated foreign housewife often uses plates for some months before she discovers they have been broken and fastened together again!

The drill is nothing but a stick and bow such as the American Indians used to make fire. This small bow with string sufficiently loose to take a turn around a metal pointed stick is all that is needed for the china mender to work miracles. He uses very small diamond chips which are inserted in the metal point of the drill stick in order to cut the holes for rivets in the china and glass.