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 cloth peddler has a small drum about three inches in diameter on the end of a handle about twelve inches long. This handle is held upright and twisted in the fingers, causing two leather knobs or buttons on strings to strike the drum. The characteristic method of handling the drum is the reason for this man being called a “yao ku erh ti” or “small drum shaker” as the drum is twisted instead of being struck. The use of the diminutive form “ku erh” indicates that the drum or “ku” used is a small one.

This type of peddler generally pushes a small two wheeled cart on which he has for sale all kinds of cloth such as may be used for making women’s under garments, children’s clothes in common use around the house. The cloth is the cheaper grade such as the flowered patterns used for children, and the white or blue “coolie cloth” so commonly seen in the Chinese clothing.

Some of the cloth peddlers carry a bundle on their shoulders and have no cart. This type generally have the white and blue “coolie cloth” only, whereas the ones with the cart sell a much larger variety.

The cloth sold comes largely from abroad, English and Japanese material now predominating, though some German blue cloth has a good reputation. The cloth peddlers buy short pieces and ends from the large stores which sell such remnants by weight. The peddlers of course then sell by measure and so make their profit.