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 –

“Shih liu hua erh lai, chien yang erh t’iao”.
“Pomegranate blossoms have arrived, choose your own kind!”

This peddler, most frequently an elderly woman, carries one or more paper boxes of artificial pomegranate blossoms on her back. These flowers are made of paper or silk and sold in single blossoms with two green leaves fastened to a metal pin. The paper ones usually have an iron pin, the silk ones a brass pin. At New Year’s time every woman and girl puts one of these pomegranate blossoms in their hair, and also places five of them, one on each of the top five bread dumplings which are placed on the family altar at New Year’s time. These dumplings are placed on five plates, each having five dumplings, which are placed in a pyramid. The five dumplings of the top plate have the five pomegranate blossoms stuck in them.

The pomegranate blossom peddler also sells sets of small pictures used in the altars at New Year’s time. Each set consists of five colored pictures of the Eight Immortals, or similar subjects with a pin for attaching the picture to fruit or other food on the altar. These pictures are called “kung hua” or picture used for worship.

The use of five blossoms, five pictures, etc. in altar articles and in fact the common use of the numeral five in all things Chinese has its origin in the five elements &ndash “chin, mu shui, huo, t’u” or metal, wood, water, fire and earth and the “wu hsing” – or five planets:

Chin (metal) Venus.
Mu (wood) Mercury.
Shui (water) Mars.
Huo (fire) Jupiter.
Y’u (earth) Saturn.