Street cries of the world

Street cries were once a popular subject of songs and literature in Britain, continental Europe and elsewhere. Each month from 2018 onwards I'll be scanning and transcribing publications to build this collection.



This peddler calls –

“Hao k’e kua tzu erh ai” or “Easily opened melon seeds!” These are the yellow or white seeds of the pumpkin and the black seeds of the water melon which have been heated until dry. The Chinese like to crack the seeds edgewise with their front teeth and the eat the small kernel which is inside. A plate of seeds seems to miraculously appear with tea wherever Chinese meet and help along the general sociability of the occasion.

The peddlers who sell these seeds hit a small gong, about four inches in diameter, with a little stick of wood. They carry a basket and while occasionally seen at other times are exceptionally prevalent at New Year’s time. At this season they also carry packs of small Chinese playing cards which the people use to help pass the night waiting for the New Year. The selling of these cards, however, is prohibited by the police.


This peddler calls –

“K’ou ch’in erh hai, mai k’ou erh ti”, “Jew’s harps have arrived, come and buy!”

These men sell Jew’s harps but their real business is selling dice sets composed of six dice – “shai tau”; a card game having thirty two cards – “ku p’ai”; and a card game having one hundred and twenty cards – “chih p’ai”. These games are much enjoyed by the people at New Year’s season but the selling of them is prohibited in order to discourage gambling.

The peddler carries a few Jew’s harps wrapped in a cloth but has the pockets of his long coats full of dice and card sets. The police know this but pay no attention as long as they do not actually see the sale of the prohibited articles. For this reason the purchaser calls the peddler inside his front gate, closes the folding doors and commences to bargain for the dice or cards.

The dice or “ku tzu”, commonly called “shai tzu”, are the same as used by foreigners. They have been known in China since before the T’ang Dynasty or for close to a thousand years. They come in sets of six.

There are two kinds of cards. The “ku p’ai” and “chih p’ai”. The “ku p’ai” come in sets of thirty-two and the sets are made of bamboo, wood or ivory depending on the price. The “cards” are about an inch wide and two inches long. There are sixteen sets which have from one to twelve dots on them. In other words there is a pair of each from ones to twelves and form extra pairs – two fives and two sevens. The game is much like the foreign game of dominoes and like dice is supposed to be about a thousand years old. One to four persons may play with the “ku p’ai”.

The “chih p’ai” are made of paper and each set has one hundred and twenty eight cards. Of these more than half have printed on them the picture of one of the famous characters from the “Shui Hu” or the book which Pearl Buck has translated and called “All Men Are Brothers”. In this book are one hundred and eight famous outlaws who took their names from one hundred and eight stars in the heavens. The other cards have dots, flowers or other designs on them. It takes four persons to play with “chih p’ai”. The game is said to be only some four hundred years old.


This peddler cries “hsing jen erh ch’a yu” – or “Almond tea oh!”. He carries two round wooden containers suspended on either side of a pole carried on the shoulder, a “t’iao tzu”. In the one carried in front is a small stove to warm the liquid which is carried in a copper bowl. The other wooden container is used to carry the coppers earned from selling the tea and a few extra china bowls.

This almond “tea” is made with a base of rice flour – “mi fen” – to which is added a little sugar and powdered almonds. The mixture is served very hot and is most palatable. It is also a favourite dish at Chinese feasts.


This peddler cries –

“Feng kao lai, ai wo wo” or “Here come the rice cakes and sweet balls!”

These peddlers are Mohammedan – why, no one seems to know except that it is the custom. They carry a wooden tray slung in front of them by means of a sling around the neck. They sell two kinds of cakes – “feng kao” and “ai wo wo”. The “feng kao” is made of rice flour and made into a large cake about fourteen inches in diameter and two inches thick. This is cut into slice which sell for about two big coppers a cut. The cake is white or red according to whether white or red sugar is used in making.


This peddler carries a “yuan lung” which is about a foot high. It is studded with brass headed nails and looks very festive. His characteristic sound is made with a gong about eight inches in diameter and made from thicker metal than usually found in gongs.

He sells cakes made into almost any design desired by the customer such as figures, animals, fruits, etc. The material used is a thick paste made from mashed peas and sugar. This he models as desired, the figure being hollow. Inside he puts a little sugar as an extra attraction. Needless to say his customers are all children, generally under fifteen years of age.


This peddler is one of the first on the streets in the spring and his appearance is always welcome by the Chinese as one of the signs that the coldest weather is over. He is seen on the first day of the New Year and for about three months thereafter.

Some of these peddlers are old men but the majority are old women. In the autumn these old people go outside the city walls to the marshy places and stream banks where reeds grow. They gather the reed leaves which they take to their homes and during the winter they roll them spirally into small horns. A thorn is used to keep the leaf from unrolling.

These small horns are made in varying sizes from three to six inches in length. The peddler places one of them inside a broken earthenware wine jug when he blows to advertise his wares. The jug amplifies the sound of the reed horn. Needless to say the horns purchased sound very weak by comparison, but they sell for only two to four coppers each and the children love them.

The peddler carries a basket in which he places his collection of horns. In the side of the horn is often struck a small paper flag as an added attraction.


This peddler has a peculiar call which is difficult to translate. He says –

“Chin t’ou la, hua t’ou la. Chiang mi yuan hsiao.”

A literal translation of the first two lines has no meaning. The first part “chin t’ou la” means that the heat has gone completely through the article. No peddler has been found who knows exactly what the second phrase “hua t’ou la” means but to say that the article is well cooked is translation enough for purposes of this study. The rest of the call is simple as it simply states that he has “yuan hsiao” or little round balls made of glutinous rice or “chiang mi”. You might give his call – “I have for sale little round rice balls which are thoroughly cooked”.


In Chinese this peddler is called “tu t’ang lo erh ti” – “candy gong hitter”. He uses a wooden stick to hit a small gong about six inches in diameter. This is his method of announcing his arrival to the children within hearing. His title does not accurately describe his wares for he sells but little candy. This is called “jen shen t’ang” or “ginsing candy” but it has none of that famous and expensive root in it. Actually his candy is made from sugar with a little chalk – “pai t’u tzu” – added. It comes in short sticks about three inches long and a little around than a lead pencil. He also sells a few candy drops made from sugar.

Aside from this small amount of candy the peddler sells toys. This is his real stock and he carries a great variety of articles. They are made of paper, of the cheapest scrap wood, tin and cardboard and none sell for more than the equivalent of two or three cents U.S. currency. Some of the articles sold are:

Clay figures.
Paper wagons.
Glass marbles.
Small kites.
Wooden and cardboard swords.
Wooden guns.
False faces.
False whiskers.
Playthings made of old tin.

All of these peddlers have a small paper house or rack with shelves in it on which they display some of their wares. Some have this on top of a basket which is slung over the shoulder and some have two round wooden boxes in which the toys are carried. In the latter case a “t’iao tzu” is used and one box slung on either end of the pole which is carried over the shoulder.


The cloth peddler has a small drum about three inches in diameter on the end of a handle about twelve inches long. This handle is held upright and twisted in the fingers, causing two leather knobs or buttons on strings to strike the drum. The characteristic method of handling the drum is the reason for this man being called a “yao ku erh ti” or “small drum shaker” as the drum is twisted instead of being struck. The use of the diminutive form “ku erh” indicates that the drum or “ku” used is a small one.

This type of peddler generally pushes a small two wheeled cart on which he has for sale all kinds of cloth such as may be used for making women’s under garments, children’s clothes in common use around the house. The cloth is the cheaper grade such as the flowered patterns used for children, and the white or blue “coolie cloth” so commonly seen in the Chinese clothing.

Some of the cloth peddlers carry a bundle on their shoulders and have no cart. This type generally have the white and blue “coolie cloth” only, whereas the ones with the cart sell a much larger variety.

The cloth sold comes largely from abroad, English and Japanese material now predominating, though some German blue cloth has a good reputation. The cloth peddlers buy short pieces and ends from the large stores which sell such remnants by weight. The peddlers of course then sell by measure and so make their profit.


This peddler sells braid to sew around the edges of ladies’ garments. The braid is called “t’ao tzu” and comes in many varieties, some plain, some embroidered. Most of the braid is English, French or Chinese made.

The braid seller carries a large pack on his back. The pack is composed of many small paper boxes containing the braid. These boxes are stacked on topo of the other and then wrapped in a large piece of coarse blue cloth. This bundle is roped and forms the peddler’s pack.

The characteristic sound of the braid seller is made with a drum and the Chinese call him a “yao ku ti” or “large drum swinger”. This distinguishes him from the “yao ku erh ti”, the peddler who has a small drum and sells cloth. The “ta ku” is about eighteen inches in diameter fastened to the end of a stick. This stick is quite strong and is sometimes used as an aid in carrying the pack.