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 beats a gong about eighteen inches in diameter. He uses a stick with the head wrapped with string and beats in single, slow strokes, pausing after three or four to see if customers call him. He uses a “t’iao tzu”. On one end of this is slung a small round wooden box known as “yuan lung”, on top of which are several racks. On the other end is carried another similar container.

In the first “yuan lung” he has a small fire over which is an iron bowl. In this bowl is a warm thick syrup of rice. The other round wooden box is used for keeping material for making the syrup, a few pieces of charcoal for the fire and other odds and ends.

When the children gather in response to his gong, the peddler takes a little dab of syrup from the bowl and moulds it into small figures of all kinds. By this time some child has ordered a special design made which is executed with much sales talk and appropriate gestures. Some of the figures he makes are fish, ears of corn, people, chickens, birds and animals of all kinds.

In addition to moulding figures the peddler will blow figures which is really his trade. The dab of warm syrup is moulded into a shape and a hollow straw inserted. The peddler then blows into the syrup and at the same time moulds it into the desired figure. When completed a little color is added to bring out the likeness and the job is done. The syrup cools quickly and becomes quite brittle. Children all have their favorite figures and eat them when tired of playing with them. Sample sugar figures are often carried in the racks on top of the “yuan lung”.