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.


These travelling magicians can be seen at any temple fair. At odd times they travel up and down the “hutungs” of Peking giving entertainments when called into the courtyards. They travel in troups of three or four men. Just after the New Year they are in great demand for then the people are in a gala mood and wish to be amused. There are two general types as follows:–

Shua ao shan teng ti or lantern juggler

These men go along the “hutungs” beating a dum, striking a gong and clashing cymbals. They have a “t’iao tzu” on which is carried several large round wooden boxes, each having several layers. These are called “yuan lung”. In these boxes are carried the articles used for the performance.

Their greatest stock in trade is “wu hsi fa erh” or “military tricks” using knives and swords, though they also do a little “wen hsi fa erh” or “literary tricks”. The former includes turning somersaults in the air while holding lanterns and it is from this they get their name of “shua ao shan teng” as they used to make believe they were imitating the evolutions of the “ao” which is a large dragon-like fish. “Literary tricks” include what foreigners term sleight of hand.

Other tricks include:

(1) “Hsiao jen erh tsuan t’an tzu” in which a small boy is supposed to be put inside a large tile jar which has only a six inch mouth. The boy is wrapped in a cloth and thrown in the vase which is covered by the same cloth. The cloth is removed and the boy has supposedly disappeared into the jar and answers questions from inside it. Another covering of the jar brings the boy out and he is found sitting by the side of the jar.

(2) “Ch’ih k’ang p’en huo” or eating spongy rice flour and blowing out fire.

(3) Turning somersaults on top of knives at the same time producing a tray with cups of water on it.

(4) “Shan p’an tzu” – in which a fan is used to fan a plate and cause it to rise from the table into the air.

Pien hsi fa erh ti or magicians

These men hit a gong as they go along the streets. They also carry their apparatus in boxes in the same manner as the jugglers. Their tricks are done by sleight of hand and include those familiar to any foreigner such as changing rice to water, frogs under rice bowls to mice, producing small bowls full of water and gold fish and many others of a like nature. Their producing of small balls out of the air is usually very well done and as many as ten are seemingly caught from the atmosphere.