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 out –

“Chih ma chirh erh lai,
Sung mu chih”.
“Sesame stalks have come and also pine branches”.

These peddlers are seen and heard only around Chinese New Year. They sell the stalks of the sesame plant (sesamum indicum) and pine or fir tree branches. These articles are carried by a “t’iao tzu” as are the wares of so many street peddlers.

The sesame stalks are about five feet in length and fifteen or twenty are done up in a bundle which is about six inches in diameter. Each household buys four or five bunches, and scatters the stalks about the compound or yard on the evening of the last day of the year. This is called “t’sai sui”.

In olden times the compound gates were never closed on New Year’s Eve. With the stalks scattered in the yard it was always possible for the people merry making inside the houses to tell when callers entered the compound due to the crackling of the sesame stalks under the guests’ feet.

The pine or fir branches are used an ornament and also a small amount is burned to give the rooms a pleasant odor.