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.


Only the extravagant Chinese housewife buys matches. All others make use of the match peddlers who exchange matches for old paper and other articles as will be later explained. At the present time the matches used are the ordinary kind which are made commercially in Peking after the foreign model and which sell at about twenty-five coppers a box. They are called “yang huo” or “foreign fire”.

Actually, matches are more often called “ch’u teng” or “light bringers”. This is of course the name used in olden times since matches have only been used in China for about fifty years. Prior to that time, flint and steel were used to make fire and the primitive match was a short piece of dried hemp stalk, ignited by a spark and blown into flame.

The match peddlers are divided into two kinds, men who carry a “t’iao tzu” and old women who carry a basket. The first kind exchanges his matches for old metal cooking utensils, bottles, old shoes, large pieces of paper and old stoves and stove pipe. He also carries soap which he will exchange for broken articles. Whatever broken articles he collects he takes outside of the Ha Ta Men, “Hatamen Gate” where he and his fellows sell their broken articles to small merchants who deal in these goods and who conduct a small market there.

As the peddlers walk along the streets they call out –

“Yang p’ing tzu mai – po po li mai.”
“I buy foreign bottles and broken glass.”

In addition to buying broken bottles, these peddlers will buy full bottles of wine from the servants in foreign and the wealthier Chinese families and sell them back to the wine stores. This is a very nice arrangement for all concerned except the head of the house who may be buying his own wine in more ways than one.