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Popular Tales and Storytellingi

Introduction of Popular Tales and Storytellingi

When talking about quyi performances, the Chinese people usually refer to them as "storytelling and singing." Storytelling has very old historical origins. In the earliest extant written records something akin to storytelling is found in a seetion of the work Bwthies of Eminent Women written by Liu Xiang of the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220). In it he relates that in ancient times, pregnant women, hoping to give birth to good-looking, gifted and kind-hearted children, used to invite artists to recite poems and tell stories to them in the evenings. There is also a similar record in Hou Bai's book Tales to crack a Smile, written during the Sui Dynasty (581 -618). According to the records, this kind of storytelling was later turned into a special performance genre called shuoshu or talk-story during the Tang and Song dynasties. The contents and styles of talk-story performances became richer and further perfected in the Southern Song Dynasty. Different schools emerged, and were known as the "four schools of talk-story artists." Some artists excelled in recounting historical stories, while others specialized in supernatural or religious stories. Talk-story further developed in the Yuan Dynasty and came to be called pinghua or "popular tales." The days when the Ming Dynasty succumbed to the Qing saw the emergence of an extraordinary storyteller named Liu jingting. It was with Liu that the art of talk-story reached its greatest height. In the late Qing Dynasty, storytelling arts 7 matured, becoming popular not only in the areas where Han people lived, but also in minority areas, where different styles emerged. They performed talk-stories in their own languages, and the themes were taken from their own lives, histories and heroes. In order to enrich the contents of the stories and their increasing number of subjects, they also absorbed materials from the Han people's scripts. these storytelling performances tcnded to be localized and in local languages. This resulted in storytelling arts in various places forming their own different styles, leading to the appearance of Sichuan Pingshu Hubei pingshu Suzhou pinghua and so on. But up to now the most influential styles have been the twu popular in the north with Beijing as the center, and YangZhou popua popular in jiangsu Province.

Today, storytelling arts are called pingshu or pinghua, but actually they both belong to the same art form of oral storytelling. The reason why shuoshu (talk-story was later called Pingshu or pinghua was because the storytellers added their own commentaries on the Subjects and the characters. They also explained the origins of and material objects in the stories. So the audience, while watching their per ferformances, was not only entertained, but all so educated and enlightened. The form became simplified, as only a single artist performed, standing or sitting at a table, using only a gavel or folded fan as a prop. Since the mid-1920s, more and more artists have performed without any props at all.

The art of talk-story, with its broad mass appeal, resulted in the growth of other art forms, nurturing forth talented artists. The famous novels such as The Romance of the Three opms and serialized novels all emerged under the influence of the storytelling artists. Many great writers, in consequence, continued from there to tread the path of literature. It can be thus considered that the art of storytelling represented by pingshu or pinghua is one of the genres imbued with special Chinese characteristics and the richest colors of Chinese aesthetics

Popular Tales and the Works of Famous Artists

1. About Pingshu or Popular Tales Popular tales, as an independent art form popular in the north of China, developed in the early years of the Qing Dynasty. Records show that, although it was a performing art using speech, most of its artists were originally singers. After the formation of Pingshu Beijing, one of its first performers was Wang Hongxing, who had earlier been a performer of xianzishu singing to the accompaniment of a plucked string instrument. By the early 20th century, many recitation and singing artists who had formerly performed xihe dagu (West River big drum) and Northeast top in north China villages, moved into the cities. One after another, they turned to performing popular tales. This was a very interesting phenomenon in the evolution of quyi.

The Pingshu performer wore a gown and sat behind a table, with a folded fan and a gavel (serving as a prop to strike the table as a warning to the audience to be quiet or as a means of attracting attention in order to strengthen the effect of the performance, especially at the beginning or at the intervals). By the middle of the l920s, these props had all disappeared, with the performer appearing only in a standing position in a gown or any other kind of clothes. Pingshu performers talk in putonghua (standard Chinese, based on the Beijing dialect). This is the popular practice in north China and most of the northeast- Spoken performance artists generally employ the third person in their narratives and introductions. A set of distinctive forms and it jles gradually took shape. For instance, the traditional procedure is usually: starting with a verse of poetry as a way to quiet the audience, or an anecdote from a short story before the main performance. The per former relates the story, applauding the human relationships and events. When a new figure appears in the Story, the artist turns his or her recital towards a description of the person's background, social position, appearance, character, etc. This kind 0f introducti0n is called kailianer (opening the face), while the speech introducing the scenery in the story is called baiqimo To praise a figure's moral qualities or beautiful scenery, the artist usually recites a long passage of literary comp0sition rhyming in an antithetical style, using elegant and musical language. This is called ton. When mentioning the most crucial and intriguing points of the plot, the performer uses parallel sentences so as to strengthen the performance's effectiveness. This approach is called duoju or Chunkou in order to keep the attention of the audience, the artist employs techniques to create suspense and use guanzi and kouzi as the basic structure, so that their speech will be eloquent and structured, making the links one by one so as to rivet the audience. This method of performance is not easy, so the artists must be very skilled in many aspects. Just as the ci poem Moonlight on the West River says, "of the many crafts in the world, the most difficult is storytelling.It is not easy to master the skills of commentary, narration, speech and acting, as well as having to memorize many lines. To begin with, the performer should have a sonorous voice, and possess the ability to control the tonal rhythm. An artist must be well versed in both cultivated language and martial arts, just as if he or she was performing a one-person play."

The lists of popular tales are mostly full-length books. The contents include historical upheavals, epics about war heroes and heroines, and chivalrous romances. By the middle of the 1920s, medium-length and shorter pieces were added to suit the requirements of evening entertainment programs.

2. Liu Lanfang and Her The Story of Yue Fei

Since the formation of pingshu (popular tales) talented storytellers have emerged generation after generation. The most influential artists since the late Qing Dynasty include ShuangHouping, who distinguished himself with his performances of Creation of thc Gods and Romances of the SU and Tang Dynasties and was honored with the title Great Master of Popular Tales; Pan Chengli, famous for his performance of Heroes and Gallants of the ming Dynasty and who was for a time in charge of the mpu Research Society; while Chen Shihe excelled in telling The Strange Tales of liao Zhai.

Since the founding of New China in 1949, Yuan Kuocheng has enjoyed a good reputation and become famous for his performance of Romance of the Three kingdom. He has put guat stress on commentary and explanations about the historicaI material and other details, for he has a deep, solid insider's cultural awareness. Yuan's casual and calm manner, in both his gentle narrative and commentary, forms a distinctive style. man Lianyuan became widely known through his early performances on television. His talk-story of the full-length script of outlaws of the Marsh, with its concentrated plot, sharp and fresh depiction of characters, quick rhythm in speaking and acting, and his witty and humorous language, appeals to a large number of young listeners. Even more, pingshu artist Liu Lanfang, the most Outstanding woman artist in the l970s, has a performance style which has had a big impact on the audience. Her best-known work is the full-length script of Thc Story of Yue Fei. Liu Lanfang was born in January 11, 1944, in Liaoyang, Liaoning Province, into an artistic Manchu family on her mother's side. She formally learned to sing the dagu from a teacher at the age of 14. The following year, she joined the Anshan Quyi Troupe. While practicing xthe dop, she also learned Northeast dagu for a time. In l972, she took up pingshu and made a name for herself with her program using the full-length script of The story of yue Fei .

Liu's program is based on the traditional full-length script titled Lopl and Devotcd Yue Fei' and in collaboration with her husband, wang Yinquan, this became her present program, centering on the moving heroic exploits of the famous patriotic general of Southern Song Dynasty national hero Yue Fei in his battles against the jin Dynasty armies. As the original script contained much Superstitious and feudal rubbish, Liu made bold cuts and edited it to retell the old tale with a fresh approach. After her program was recorded and broadcast by the Anshan People's Radio Station, it was rebroadcast by scores of provincial and municipal radio stations throughout China. Its fascinating plot and her outst3nding verbal ability created a great stir soon after the Cultural Revolution. Inspiring a sentiment of going all out for the prosperity of the country and pbosting the unfair ousting of many founders of New China during the Cultural Revolution, it inspired many workers, upon returning home from their factories and offices, to immediately turn on their radios to listen to Liu's The Story of Yue Fei. The 100-chapter pingshu script The story of Yue Fei was published by the Chunfeng Literature Publishing House in September 1981.

Liu Lanfang, with her sonorous voice and vigor, gives the audience an impression of capability and boldness, making her well suited for telling heroic stories. As she began to sing dagu as a girl, she naturally blends her comprehension of music and trained voice with her storytelling. Her performances always give audiences a wonderful feeling, as if they were listening to music. All this makes Liu an innovative and unique pingshu performer

Yangzhou Popular Tales

1. on YangZhou Pinghua (Popular Tales)

YangZhou pinghua, also called Weiyang pinghua or pingci took shape in the early Qing Dynasty. It was first popular in north jiangsu Province, with YangZhou as the center, and in Nanjing, Zhenjiang and Shanghai. One performer stands behind a table with a folded fan and a gavel, talking in YangZhou dialect- Since the mid-20th century, performers have not often used props, Many famous artists and scripts have appeared. For example, Wu Tianxu is known for his version of Annals of the Three kingdoms, with his unique and convincing imitations of hand gestures representing blocking the water and breaking the bridge as Zhang Yide does in the plot, without uttering a word. His acting is so moving that makes the audience feel as if they heard the storm fill the room. Qing Feng Zha and the Tale of Fei Tuo, compiled and performed by Pu Lin and Zuo Bixian, respectively, are popular because of their vivid and unique depiction of ordinary people. Other famous pieces are Ye Shuanglin's The Story of Yue Fei, Deng Guangdou and Song Yuezhang's Outlaws of the Marsh, Li Guohui and Lan Yuchun's Three kingdoms, jin Guocan's The Sorcerer's Revolt and Its Suppression, Lang Zhaoming and Lang Zhaoxing's Green Peony Dai Shanzhang's The hoop to thc West and ran Zizhang's Cascs of Lord Shi All the above-mentioned artists enjoyed good reputations for a time.

The YangZhou pinghua artists usually pass on their repertoires from generation to generation. Many items, such as The Romance of the Three kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh all have adherents who have formed different schools. Some of the contents have become enriched in the course of being spread, being similar in content and but varied in details. Since the founding of New China, many new novels have been adapted as YangZhou pwtua. Medium-length and short items have appeared on the stage. However, the traditional items still occupy the major place.

2. Wang Shaotang and the Wang School Shui Hu

Quyi story-telling and singing art forms have been handed down from generation to generation, so it is a commonplace phenomena that artists of different generations come from the same family, each generation having talented artists. For example, the formation of the Wang School Shui Hu in the late Qing period and its development of Yangzhou pinghua are typical of an old and well-known pinghua family.

The representative figure of the Wang School was Wang Shaotang (1889-1968), who was born in YangZhou. Both his father and his uncle were skilled at per forming YangZhou pinghua. Wang Shaotang began to learn the skill from his father at the age of seven, performed on the stage at nine, and became a professional artist at the age of twelve. His performances were based on his family script of the classic novel outlaws of the Marsh (known as Shui HU), which was in a ten-part series. He compiled the stories of Wu Song, Shi Xiu and Lu junyi from the Shui Hu into four scripts, which later became the representative works of YangZhou pngua as represented by Wang Shaotang, hence the name of the Wang School Shui Hu.

A special characteristic of the Wang School Shui Hu is its centering on the main figures of the story. Wang integrated the four scripts by connecting the ties between the four major figures. He portrayed the exploits of the heroes in considerable detail and elaborated the original novel's simple descriptions. His performance was delicate, fine both in appearance and spirit, and his enunciation was clear and refined, so his performance was praised by the audiences as "refined but not burdensome, majestic but not coarse." His son Wang Xiaotang and granddaughter Wang Litang are both famous performers of YangZhou pinghua Especially his granddaughter Wang Litang, she was taught directly by her grandfather.

Following the publication of the script Wu Song , Songjiang that were performed by Wang Shaotang during the l950s, Wang Litang's scripts of Wu Song ,Songjiang, Shi Xiu and Lujuny (each script in two volumes with ten chapters) were published by the Chinese Quyi Publishing House and jiangsu Literature Publishing House, respectively, in 1989 and 1995. They are called the Four Ten-Chapter Books of the Wang School of Yangzhou Pinghua.

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