The Pigeon Flocks over the Siheyuan

“The sound of the night watch man’s striking the day’s last hour was heard in the south lane; the sound of music and monk’s praying and chanting Sutras was heard on the north street. My dream was disturbed by some others, and whose pigeons are playing with the resounding bells?” This poet was composed by Fan Chengda(1126-1193), one of the four great masters of the Southern Song’s poetry. Pigeons are the noble species among the birds. Beijingers had been raising pigeons since the Northern Song Dynasty. In the Yuan Dynasty, the Daboge hutong (originally the Dabo Pigeon Fair) at the north entrance of the Wangfujing (the biggest long commercial street in Beijing) was the most prosperous pigeon fair. In Qing Dynasty, raising pigeons had become a fashion. The book Yanjing Suishi Ji (the Annals of Beijing), written during Qing Guangxu’s reign, records: “When the pigeons are flied to the sky, a bamboo whistle is attached to the bird’s tail… So when the pigeon flock was wheeling in the air, the whistle sound rends the air with various tones due to the air flow change created by the pigeon’s movements.

In the early period of the Republic of China, the pigeon fair in Beijing was convened in the tiny temple housing the village god in lunar March, in Huashi (flower market) in lunar April, in the Huguo Temple in lunar and in Longfu Temple in lunar September to October. During the 1920s to 1930s, the fair was held in front of the White Tower Temple.

Pigeon whistles generally full into four categories. The gourd-shaped: a round-shaped gourd weighs only 7-8 grams after being carved. Its inside is divided into two compartments to give forth the major tones and the reed or bamboo tubes attached to the guard produces the supplementing sounds. The juxtaposed canister type: two to five tubes bound side by side into a row. Star-row type: seven round shaped whistles are placed on a petal-shaped holder; it’s called the “plum-shaped seven star.” Star-hole type: the elliptic and tubular whistles are combined and the number of the whistle decides the name of the pigeon whistle. The biggest number could be 35.