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 peddler calls –

“Hua erh lai
Mai hua erh”

This peddler sells pictures of legendary historical nature, famous scenic views and likenesses of groups from well known plays. There are two sizes for sales – the large are about 2 ft x 3 ft. and the small about 1½ by 1 ft. They are printed on a cheap white paper by means of wood blocks, after which the various colors are put on by hand.

These pictures come from Yang Liu Ch’ing, a village southwest of Tientsin, where the work is done by the women and children of the village in their spare time.

The peddler carries rolls of these pictures wrapped in a piece of reed window curtain (wei lien tzu), slung over his shoulder by a piece of rope. The pictures sell for from 4 to 10 double coppers each.

After purchase the pictures are pasted on the walls of the houses in the children’s rooms. The women tell stories from them and they also serve as decorations – an always visible Mother Goose!

At the present time more modern printing methods introduced in Tientsin, Shanghai and other places are producing clearer pictures for the same price and the old trade is fast losing ground.

Another sort of picture seller is the man who operates on a somewhat larger scale. They sell pictures usually from the 15th to the end of the last month of the year. These peddlers erect a matting shed at some busy corner or on a much frequented “hut’ung”. Each one has his own particular song or chant to attract the passer by and hopes to attract a purchaser.

Many of these songs and rhymes are most amusing and the one given below is merely a sample:–

“Tung i chang, hsi i chang
T’ieh tsai wu li, liang t’ang t’ang
Ch’ou ch’ung i chien, hsin huan hsi
Chin nien kai hsia, kuo nien ti fang”.

Roughly translated the doggerel would be something like this:–

“A picture to the east and one to the west
Paste them on the room walls, that is best.
The bed bugs see them, are happy and carouse
This year, you build for us next year’s house!”