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.



In olden times up to and including the Ming Dynasty this was called “shu hsi” or “mouse theatricals”. It was later called “shua hao tzu” which term means “to play with mice”.

The man carries a box slung over his shoulder on which is fixed a pole with a round disk near the top. Several small flags are stuck on the top of the pole for ornaments. The disk has holes in it and from it runs a rope ladder to the box. On the disk are generally the following:–

(1) Small pagoda.
(2) Small temple.
(3) Wooden peach with hole in it.
(4) Bucket hung on a string.
(5) Wooden fish hung on a string.
(6) Revolving wheel.
(7) Wooden stock to go around neck like used in olden times for punishment.

When the mouse man goes along the streets he blows on a small horn called a “so na”. This is a foot three and a half inches in height and was originally brought to China from Annam. It is one of the instruments seen in all kinds of Chinese musical groups and is used in the theater, wedding and funeral processions, and by Buddhist and Taoist priests.

When called into a compound to perform, the mouse man opens drawers in which are several mice in cotton nests. These mice climb the ladder, pull up the bracket and fish, run around the wheel and crawl through the peach, pagoda and temple. The trainer sings and taps the ox with a small stick which he sometimes uses to direct the mice around. Each mouse has his specialty and when finished is put back in his box and another taken out and put through his paces.

After the mice have performed, the mouse man will ask what tunes you would like to hear and he then plays them on his small horn. The “so na” has a very small reed mouthpiece. There are seven holes on the front and one on the back. The one on the back lets the surplus air out. The seven on the front correspond to the seven notes of the Chinese musical scale which are as follows:–



The trained monkey men travel in pairs each carrying a box containing various hats and articles used by the monkey. They have a small dog and a goat.

The monkey opens the boxes himself and puts on the different kinds of hats. Then the little dog does a few tricks after which the monkey does a few turns on a pole or small ladder. The last part of the performance takes place with monkey riding around on the goat’s back.

During the performance one of the men sings and hits his gong. This is a large gong about two feet in diameter.


This man with his trained bear is seen at all times of the year. The bear is called a “kou hsiung” or “dog bear” because it is about the size of a large dog.

The bear is trained to

(1) swing a “ch’a” or fork like implement used by Chinese soldiers in ancient times.
(2) use a “hu ch’eng tzu” or “tiger stretcher” like the medicine man who salls “kao yuo” or plasters.
(3) put on a hat like that worn by officials in the time of the Manchus.


The Chinese puppet show is very much like our Punch and Judy performance. The apparatus is packed in two loads carried on either end of a pole. One load looks like a small house but opens out into a little stage, from the bottom of which hangs a cloth drape completely hiding the performer. The stage is propped up by means of the carrying pole. The other load consists of nested boxes in which are carried the puppets and other articles needed for the plays.

Two of the most famous puppet plays are

(1) “Wang Hsiao ta lao hu” – “Wang Hsiao hunts the tiger”. In this Wang Hsiao is eaten by the tiger. His wife goes after him, kills the tiger and drags Wang Hsiao from the tiger’s mouth.

(2) “Kao Lao Chuang” &Ndash; “The village of Kao Lao”. This is one of many stories about the mythical monkey, Sun Hou Erh from “Hsi Yu Chi” or “Journey to the West”.

The performer works the puppets from below and at the same time talks and hits a small gong when appropriate. When going in search of trade these puppet show men beat a large gong and a small one. The former is about ten inches in diameter and flat with a level place in the center. It is hit three times with a thin piece of wood after which the large gong is struck once. This gong is about two feet in diameter.


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.


This man has two and often three young boys with him. Their apparatus consists of a boat made from cloth and bamboo, a false horse’s head and false lion’s head. They use a large gong, drum and cymbals as they go along the streets to advertize their arrival and these instruments are utilized as well during the entertainment.

The show usually consists of the following:–

(1) The head man sits on the ground and beats the drum and cymbals while the two small boys – one of which is dressed as a girl – go through with the act which consists of singing.

(2) In this part of the act the boy dressed in girl’s clothing rides around on a horse and sings a well known song: “chao chun ch’u sai” which tells of famous actors and authors of the Han Dynasty. This is called “P’ao Chu Ma” – Riding the Bamboo Horse.

(3) For the third act we have an historical anecdote called “Ta t’ou he shang to Liu T’sui”. This is the story of a large headed Buddhist priest who was very much wrapped up in his religious studies. One day a fox fairy changed into a beautiful girl called Liu T’sui who tries to seduce the priest. She is unsuccessful and the priest goes on with his devotions. This is pantomimed in dancing.

(4) The last act is the “p’ao han ch’uan” or “running land boat”. The boy dressed as a girl gets inside the boat and unstraps his small girl’s feet of wood on which he has been teetering around for the first part of the show. He arranges these so it looks as though he was really sitting on the boat. He then runs around to the accompaniment of drum and cymbals. The other boy use a pole as though pushing the boat.


The man is called an almanac peddler but he also sells the small leaflets containing songs or rhymes called “ch’ang pen erh”. The almanacs are in demand from about the tenth month of the year through the first month of the following year. During this time the peddler calls out – “Huang li, ta pen erh huang li” or “Almanacs, complete almanacs”.

The complete almanacs have thirty-two pages and contain all sorts of information. Among the subjects covered may be mentioned –

1. Rain table – which depends on the number of dragons available each year to look after the water; if only one dragon the rainfall will be great, if the maximum of six dragons are available, then a dry year is forecast.
2. Notes and photographs of most prominent Chinese officials.
3. Tables for telling fortunes by the different arrangement of six coins.
4. Table of characters which may be written and burned to cure minor ailments.
5. Signs of the zodiac (Chinese system).
6. Meaning of certain dreams.
7. Fortune telling tables.
8. Horoscope table using the nine great stars.
9. Description of the modern marriage ceremony.
10. Table showing colors of clothes suitable for the year.
11. Tables showing each month and day and telling the days suitable for weddings, funerals, inviting guests, repairing houses, taking medicine, planting crops, visiting friends and in fact covering every phase of Chinese life.

During the months of the year when this peddler does not sell almanacs he makes his living by peddling small pamphlets which contain rhymes or songs which are sung on the streets – many of them quite vulgar. The peddler will teach the approximate song to any who buy the words.


This peddler cries –

“I yao ao lao wei” – milk liquor.

The first three words and the last are meaningless and for sound only. The word “lao” means a sort of liquor made mostly of milk. This originated in Mongolia. The milk is first heated and a little “chiang mi chiu” glutinous rice wine added. This is cooled on ice and makes a sort of jelly.

This peddler carries two large round wooden boxes with covers – “yuan lung” – one on each end of a pole borne on his shoulder (t’iao). In each is a large piece of ice surrounded by the liquor and a large assortment of small cina bowls.

The peddler carries three dice and gambles with a prospective purchaser. The dice are thrown in an empty bowl. If the peddler wins the purchaser gets his drinks free, otherwise he pays so much per bowl. The peddler always wins because the purchaser after all can only drink a few bowls of the cold liquid.


This peddler calls –

“Hua erh lai
Mai hua erh”

This peddler sells pictures of legendary historical nature, famous scenic views and likenesses of groups from well known plays. There are two sizes for sales – the large are about 2 ft x 3 ft. and the small about 1½ by 1 ft. They are printed on a cheap white paper by means of wood blocks, after which the various colors are put on by hand.

These pictures come from Yang Liu Ch’ing, a village southwest of Tientsin, where the work is done by the women and children of the village in their spare time.

The peddler carries rolls of these pictures wrapped in a piece of reed window curtain (wei lien tzu), slung over his shoulder by a piece of rope. The pictures sell for from 4 to 10 double coppers each.

After purchase the pictures are pasted on the walls of the houses in the children’s rooms. The women tell stories from them and they also serve as decorations – an always visible Mother Goose!

At the present time more modern printing methods introduced in Tientsin, Shanghai and other places are producing clearer pictures for the same price and the old trade is fast losing ground.

Another sort of picture seller is the man who operates on a somewhat larger scale. They sell pictures usually from the 15th to the end of the last month of the year. These peddlers erect a matting shed at some busy corner or on a much frequented “hut’ung”. Each one has his own particular song or chant to attract the passer by and hopes to attract a purchaser.

Many of these songs and rhymes are most amusing and the one given below is merely a sample:–

“Tung i chang, hsi i chang
T’ieh tsai wu li, liang t’ang t’ang
Ch’ou ch’ung i chien, hsin huan hsi
Chin nien kai hsia, kuo nien ti fang”.

Roughly translated the doggerel would be something like this:–

“A picture to the east and one to the west
Paste them on the room walls, that is best.
The bed bugs see them, are happy and carouse
This year, you build for us next year’s house!”