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 china peddlers are seen on the streets all during the year. They have the following call –

“Huan ch’a hu lai. Huan ch’a wan lai”.
“Come and trade your teapots. Come and trade your teacups!”

These men have a “t’iao tzu”. On each end is a large basket on top of which is piled a large pyramid of bowls, cups, saucers, teapots and other china articles. The china is of better grade than carried by the “second grade china peddler” but not the best grade. The best china is made in Chiu Kiang (Kinkiang, Kiangsi) and is only sold in the shops – not by peddlers.

The most interesting thing about the china peddlers is the way in which they tie their wares up into pyramids or bee hives in shape. Only one cord is used for each heap of china, impossible as it sounds. Cups, saucers, teapots, bowls, small vases and what not are piled on top of each other and tied on in some miraculous way so that they do not fall off. Yet any article may be taken from the pile with the minimum of effort for sale to customers.

These peddlers sell their china but prefer to trade their wares for clothing, hats, shoes, unwanted old china, curios, etc. These articles must be in good condition. The china peddlers are always on the lookout for old valuable china which the housewife may not want or perhaps not know its true value. They keep an ear to the ground for news of a betrothal, for then they know the family will be looking for a set of china to send with the bride to her new home.

This set includes the following for the ordinary Chinese family:–

1 large vase, about three feet high and mostly used to hold feather dusters.
1 large fruit plate, about two and a half feet in diameter.
1 pair flower vases, with stone artificial flowers.
1 pair each – teapot, teacup, saucer.
1 pair china pedestals for holding hats.
4 food bowls.
2 soap dishes.
2 or 3 wash basins.
4 pairs of assorted small china boxes for face powder, pins, etc.
2 bowls for washing out the mouth.

This set will cost about $30 Peking currency and of course much more expensive ones may be purchased. As it is necessary to supply a betrothed girl with such articles it usually is not easy for the family concerned. Hence they will often trade curios, valuable china and other articles to the china peddler in order to obtain the customary set for the bride. On such occasions the china peddlers make quite a bit of money to make up for the small profits of their ordinary business.