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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.

CALLS, SOUNDS AND MERCHANDISE OF THE PEKING STREET PEDDLERS

FAN PEDDLER

These peddlers are seen on the streets during the four warmer months of the year. They carry a small box about two and a half feet long, one foot wide and two feet high slung over their shoulders. The box has two small drawers in the top and the bottom has two doors which open like the standard Chinese cabinet.

In the center of the cabinet top is fastened a round stick about two and a half feet long. At to the top of this is a cross bar from which are sprung eight twisted strands or cord – four on each of the supporting stick. These cords run from the cross bar to the top of the box and have several hundred small bells fastened to them. As the fan peddler walks along with his box swung over his shoulder the sound of the bells tells everyone that the fan man is coming.

The fan peddler sells the bamboo frames for fans – “shan ku tzu” and also the paper “shan mien tzu” to paste on the frames. These articles are of the cheaper grades and one must go to stores for the more expensive. These stores are called “nan chih p’u” or “southern paper stores” as the good grade paper of all kinds and fans come from South China.

In addition to selling frames and “shan mien tzu”, these peddlers can repair fans. He is an expert at fixing the “shan chou tzu” or fan axle or hinge. This is a small round piece of cow’s horn – “niu chiao” which pins the fan sticks together and upon which they rotate. The ends of this must be heated and crimped just right, otherwise the fan sticks will not move properly. This he does by means of a small pair of pliers which have two small holes in the jaws to take the “chou tzu” or fan axle. The pliers are heated to just the right temperature by means of a small charcoal brazier carried in his box. When the pliers are warm enough he places the horn pin in the fan sticks and crimps the ends with the heated pliers, the heat just melting enough of the horn to make a double headed rivet.

THE BARBER

The barber carries his shop with him on a “t’iao tzu”. To one end of the pole is fastened a stool like seat and to the other a round rack holding a bowl, water container and small charcoal stove. From this rack projects a pole near the top of which is a small square object like a cup. This pole looks like the flag poles seen outside of the “yamen” or official buildings of the Manchus. As a matter of fact it is just that – a miniature “ch’i kan” or flag pole. Thw square cup like object is a model of the “tou” or peck measure used by the Chinese.

The pole and peck measure are called “tiao tou ch’i kan”. This flag pole and peck measure were found on either side of the gates of homes and offices of important officials of the former Manchu regime and were the sign that these officials could speak directly to the Emperor. It was the symbol of executive power. It will be noted that the temples have the flag pole but no “tou”. A “Living Buddha” could have the “tou”, however, as he exercised temporal as well as spiritual power.

The idea of the peck measure came from the “pei tou” or “northern peck measure” which foreigners call the “Dipper”. The Dipper is a symbol of exactness as it moves in a prescribed manner and is much revered by the Chinese. The use of the peck measure therefore is a reminder that the words and actions of the officials could not be wrong.

How the “tiao tou ch’i kan” came to be used by the barber is an interesting story. Prior to and during the Ming Dynasty men wore their hair like the Taoist priest of to-day and did not shave their faces. It is interesting to note that this accounts for the fact that actors in Chinese plays use the old style hair dress and have beards as this was the custom in those days. It was during this period that the Chinese theater flourished and many of the old plays originated. Of course the theater is supposed to have started in the T’ang Dynasty but to have reached its greatest heights in the time of the Ming Emperors.

When the Manchus came through the Great Wall at Shanhaikwan and conquered China, they wished to make the people of China follow their customs. Now the Manchus and mongols had shaved their faces and worn queues for many generations. The first Emperor of the Manchus is supposed to have announced that his method of insuring the prosperity of his country, according to the historical phrase, was to “hsiao p’ing ssu wei, liu shou chung yuan”. This means to conquer the countries on all sides of him and to leave his own standing out in the center.

So one the queue became the symbol of this as the hair on all sides was shaved off leaving only the queue in the center. The hairs of this were braided together as a symbol of a united country.

Hence when the Manchus conquered China they wished all Chinese to wear the queue as a sign that they submitted to Manchu rule and followed Manchu customs.

Many Chinese refused to cut their hair and this added to the troubles of the Manchus. Finally an Imperial Edict was issued requiring the wearing of the queue. All barbers were paid by the government and given a small yamen pole – “tiao tou ch’i kan” to which was fastened the Edict. Thereafter the barbers could go along the street and compel people to kneel before the Imperial Edict and have their head prepared with a queue.

Since barbers were paid by the government they could not charge for their services but were often given a tip. This led to there being no fixed charge for the barbers’ services after they ceased to be paid by the government as the custom of giving tips still prevailed. At present there has grown up a customary scale of charges for barbering for Peiping and the same sort of system is in evidence in other towns.

From about 1910 the small mat sheds “t’i t’ou p’eng” began to be used and these have gradually been replaced by the more modern barber shop or “li fa kuan”. Street barbers still cater to the majority of the Chinese people and to this day have the traditional “tiao tou ch’i kan” on their barber’s kit but without any signs of an Imperial Edict hanging thereon.

The barber has a very characteristic sound which is much like that given by a tuning fork. This made by an instrument called a “huan t’ou” which is an iron fork like article having two prongs which barely touch. This is held by a short rod base in the left hand using the third and fourth finger. The first and second finger and thumb are used to make a cup to help amplify the sound made when a small iron rod is drawn quickly between the prongs of the fork. These vibrate together and give off a ringing sound which carries quite a distance and announces that the barber is coming. The name of the instrument “huan t’ou” comes from the fact that it “chiao huan jen lai t’i t’ou”, “calls people to come and have their hair dressed”.

The origin of the “huan t’ou” cannot be traced. Some say it was once a form of knife used by barbers, others say it came from the barbers’ tweezers used to pull hair – certainly it looks more like the latter. However, the Peking Barbers’ Guild does not know its origin and no better authority is available.

THE FEET FIXER

The feet fixer, or chiropodist as we Occidentals say, has two small pieces of bamboo fastened to the ends of two small hinged sticks. These are clacked together and announce his passing.

All feet fixers come from the town of Ting Hsing Hsien, about forty odd miles southwest of Peking. This town is famous for its feet fixers and bath house attendants. The latter have special ability to keep fires hot.

It is interesting to note that the Peking bath houses with their heating system of tiled floors are all built by masons from Ting Hsing Hsien. They keep the secrets of their trade very jealously.

The chiropodist in China is not without fame and has often worked himself into prominence. Not many years ago there was the famous Li Yen-ch’ing who was private feet fixer for Ts’ao K’un, then President of the Peking Government in 1924.

At that time the Peking Government with Wu P’ei-fu and Feng Yu-hsiang as its military leaders fighting against Chang Tso-lin of Manchuria. Ts’ao K’un sent a large sum of money to Feng but it was taken by Li Yen-ch’ing who had risen from feet fixer to other heights in Ts’ao’s household.

When Feng received no money to pay and feed his troops he turned and captured Peking. His first act was to shoot Li Yen-ch’ing. Feng then attacked Wu P’ei-fu and caused the downfall of Wu and also the Government of Ts’ao K’un. A new government was set up in Peiping under Feng which gradually gave way to one under Chang Tso-lin who came in from Manchuria.

Thus the actions of a feet fixer changed the history of China!

MOON CAKE PEDDLER

These peddlers appear on the streets after the fifteenth day of the seventh moon or month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar. They sell the “yueh ping” or “moon cake” from this time until the fifteenth day of the eighth moon. This latter date is known as the “chung ch’iu chieh”, the “Autumn Festival” or simply as “pa yueh chieh”, the “Festival of the Eighth Moon”. Foreigners often call it the “Moon Festival”.

Aside from the New Year Festival, the Autumn Festival is the most important of the year. The third of the three main Chinese festivals is the one on the fifth day of the fifth moon. This is the “wu yueh chieh” or more correctly but not so commonly known as the “tuan yang chieh”. This is the festival in celebration of the first day when the sun’s rays begin to be warmest. It is the end of the Chinese spring and the start of their summer.

At the Autumn Festival the Chinese make much use of the “moon cake”. The outer crust of these cakes is made from sesame oil, flour and sugar. Inside is rolled a mixture of sugar, dried fruits and nuts of various kinds. The cakes vary in size from about two to six inches in diameter. They are about an inch thick. Large ones are made several feet in diameter for the purpose of placing on the tables prepared for paying homage to the moon. These large cakes have the traditional picture of a tree, house and rabbit painted on them in red – symbolic of the fable of the “t’u erh yeh”.

This old fable originated in very ancient times. The rabbit pounding medicine in a mortar dates back to the story of Ch’ang E who ate the medicine her imperial husband left in her care and hence was pursued by him to the moon. The play of “Ch’ang E Pen Yuek” or “Ch’ang E Fleeing to the Moon” is one of the famous theatrical productions.

The custom of painting the picture of the rabbit, tree, etc. on the large moon cakes comes from the time of Ming Huang, the most famous of the T’ang Dynasty Emperors. One night he dreamed that he went into the moon and there he saw a rabbit pounding medicine, spacious houses, and many beautiful maidens playing musical instruments. When he awakened he remembered the tune they were playing which he taught to the court musicians. This tune is known as “Ni shang yu i ch’u” and is famous to the present time.

Chinese legends are so intertwined that it is difficult to find the origin of many of the stories but suffice it to say that the use of the large moon cake with the picture of the “T’u erh yeh” fable came into being during the T’ang Dynasty and the cakes are now placed on the tables at the Moon Festival with the food, a paper picture of the rabbit, green bean stalks (mao tou chih) and cock’s comb (hung chi kuan tzu hua). The latter two items are placed there for the benefit of the rabbit who is supposed to be particularly fond of them.

These articles are arranged in the court of the Chinese house where the full moon will fall on them on the night of the 15th day of the 8th moon. The incense on the table is then lighted and when it is nearly burned out the paper picture of the rabbit is lighted. After this the large moon cake is taken from the table and divided, each person in the family eating a piece as a symbol of family unity or “t’uan yuan”. This accounts for the moon cake being sometimes called “t’uan yuan ping”. The remainder of the food, fruit and other eatables from the table are given to the household servants and this ends the celebrations of the Moon Festival.

EARTHERN VESSEL PEDDLER

This peddler pushes a one wheeled wheelbarrow on which he has tied all sizes of bowls and basins from flower pots to laundry tubs or bath tubs about four feet in diameter. These are made from yellow earth on tje kilns of the village of Liao Li T’un which is six li (two miles) east of the Ch’i Hua Men or Ch’ao Yang Men, the main east gate of Peking.

The characteristic sound of this peddler is made by striking one of his clay vessels with a small long handled wooden hammer. The prospective purchaser will also hit the vessel he is considering buying. If it has a good clear sound, it has been properly baked and should last a long time. One washtub of this kind has been used by a certain Peking family for over sixty years!

SESAME OIL PEDDLER

This type of peddler comes down from the earliest days in China. He sells the oil made from crushing sesame seeds. It is called “hsiang yu” and is used to flavor all kinds of food in North China. Peking people are particularly fond of its taste and it is used in cooking almost every sort of dish. As you go further south in China the yellow bean oil is more used for flavoring, as it is in Manchuria.

In olden times sesame seed oil was burned by being placed in a small bowl with a wick. It is now used in this way for altar lamps in temples and on family altars, but its main use is for flavoring in cooking and for frying various kinds of food.

This peddler hits a sort of wooden castanet or “pang tzu” with a stick. The “castanet” is a piece of wood with the inside hollowed out so that when struck it emits the typical hollow sound of the “pang tzu”. There are many kinds of “pang tzu” used by peddlers as have been described elsewhere.

CANDY PEDDLER

This peddler uses a “t’iao tzu”. On one end is a round wooden box – “yuan lung”. On the other end is a smaller “yuan lung” on which is placed a square wooden tray. In this are displayed the peddler’s wares consisting of all kinds of low grade candy. It is made from rice and very brittle. The Chinese call it “su t’ang” or “brittle candy”.

The peddler beats a gong about one foot in diameter with long slow strokes.

GOURD BEATER

This peddler is called by his Chinese name for lack of a better descriptive title. He carries a “t’iao tzu” and beats with a stick on half a gourd which has been hollowed out to hold water. The Chinese use them as water dippers.

The wares sold by this peddler are so numerous that it is hard to find a name for him. He sells all the various articles found at the fairs and so much used by the people that they never buy enough at one time and always have to replenish their supply. Among the articles are feather dusters, brooms of all kinds, hollow gourds, dust pans, wire strainers, brushes, wash boards and other small articles made of bamboo and wood.

On one end of his “t’iao tzu” he has a rack for dusters, brushes, etc. and on the other a tray where the various smaller articles are displayed. This type of peddler carries on business all the year round and naturally does more business when there are no temple fairs in progress where people can buy the wares which he has for sale.

SUGAR FIGURE BLOWER

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”.

PANCAKE PEDDLER

This one calls –

“Kuei hua kang lao
T’ien pao t’sui
Tzu erh po po.”

This peddler carries a round wooden box “yuan lung” on his arm. This box has four sections and in it he carries three kinds of articles for sale:

(1) The “kang lao” is a kind of flat round cake made from flour and sugar flavored with cinnamon (“kuei hua”).

(2) The “pao t’sui” is a very thin dry cracker about the size of a griddle cake but almost as thin as paper. It is made of flour and water and flavored with sesame seed.

(3) The “tzu erh po po” is a small cake made of flour, water and sugar. A wooden mould is used to cut the batter into small flower shaped cakes which are cooked until very hard – like pebbles – hence the name “tzu erh”. These are made very hard so as to keep the younger generation busy eating one candy for a long time – like an “all day sucker”.