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 calls –

“Shu teng chih wan erh lai yo”
“Numerous lamp bowls have come!”

This peddler sells small bowls made of clay, baked and painted yellow. These are about an inch and a half in diameter and have a small depression in the bottom. In this depression is placed a small wick made from “teng hua erh chih”, a kind of yellow paper. This wick is dipped in sesame oil (hsiang yu), placed in the bowl and lighted when incense is burned on the family altar.

The word “shu” is used because a number of these bowls are always purchased, generally 48 or 108 – these figures taken from the number of important stars in the heavens (2 x 48 + 12, one for each month). The “lamp bowls” are placed on a table or whatever is used as an altar. They are just behind the altar vessels or “wu kung”. These vessels are – (1) incense burner in the center; (2) one candlestick on either side; (3) one flower vase on either side of the candlesticks. Anyone particularly interested in the use of these small lights and their connection with the stars may look up “shun hsing”.

The peddler carries a “t’iao tzu” with two large shallow baskets in which are piled the small bowls. These are sold the first eight days of the New Year and used on the eight nights as noted above.

The first day is given to worshipping Yu Huang, the God of the Heavens, and all the lesser deities (“ch’uan fo”). The second day, Ts’ai Shen Yeh (the God of Wealth) is worshipped. The third day or perhaps the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh are used to worship one or more of the deities according to whichever ones are popular in that particular section of the country.

From the 1st until the 15th of the New Year the worship of the ancestors and the various members of the Buddhist pantheon is customary.