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Speaking and Singing Arts

Chinese theater is a comprehensive mixture of stage arts, combining poems, songs, music, dances and fine arts into one. This comprehensive art form is not cobbled together haphazardly, but assembled in an orderly way. Characters are described through narrative poems, and makeup, costumes and actions are all used to tell the story. This is a principle of Chinese theater, and other art elements absorbed by Chinese theater must observe this principle. If folk songs and dances laid the groundwork for Chinese theater, we may say that narrative poems were the second stage of the preparation, or literary preparation.

Such literary preparation was supplied by the reciting and singing arts. The reciting and singing arts not only provided fascinating plots, but also forms of artistic expression.

Lectures on Scriptures Given by Monks and Nuns as Recreation Activities

The An Lushan-Shi Siming Rebellion greatly weakened Tang power. The turbulence and suffering of this period drove many people to seek solace in the Buddhist religion, resulting in a revival in the fortunes of the temples. The temples, too, became gathering places where entertainment was available, part of which was listening to monks and nuns lecture. Such lectures fell into two categories: The Sutra lecture and the conventional lecture. The former was only attended by monks and nuns, while the conventional lecture was held specially for lay people. To attract benefactors and spread their doctrines, monks and nuns narrated Buddhist doctrines through singing and recitation, combining prose with verse. Often they recounted stories from history and folklore, as well as stories about famous contemporary figures.

These lectures gave birth to the bianwen (a popular form of narrative literature which flourished in the Tang Dynasty, with alternate prose and verse for recitation and singing), thus raising the level of Chinese narrative literature. In long narrative works with both singing and recitation, the organization of the plots and the description of the characters were brought into full play. In this way, these works created the conditions for Chinese dramas to tell stories and portray characters more vividly.

The conventional lecture was an art form featuring singing and recitation, and with a central story theme. Its mode of expression (a combination of singing and recitation and alternate prose and verse) contributed to the development of Chinese theater, Generally in Chinese dramas, a performer may narrate in the first or the third person, indicating that he is concealing his identity (which may be a female role), and may imitate the voice and gestures of one of the other characters. This was a legacy of the conventional lecture and bianwen.

Zhugongdiao a Type of Folk Ballad

In the middle of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), Kong Sanchuan (his dates are unknown) created a kind of ballad known as Zhugongdiao.

Singing Zhugongdiao was not limited to one mode of ancient Chinese music. According to the requirements of the plots, various modes of music might be adopted, and the mode could be changed to follow the pace of the plot. The story was the lifeline of the music, while the music added color to the story. Hence Zhugongdiao, a combination of literature and music with a story at the core, was a sophisticated form of the art of singing-and-recitation, from which Chinese theater absorbed its outstanding advantage - combining a story with music. One of the most famous traditional dramas, The Western Chamber(Zhugongdiao),was adapted by Dong Xieyuan from The Story of Yingying,written by Yuan Zhen of the Tang Dynasty. Dong fitted 193 musical episodes in 14 genres to this beautiful and moving love story. His version exerted a direct influence on the novel of the same name by Wang Shifu. The dramatization of outstanding narrative literary works like The Western Chamber gave a great impetus t0 the development of Chinese theater. Therefore, we should acknowledge the debt that Chinese theater owes to the influence of Zhugongdiao in terms of the combination of literature and music.

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