Suzhou pingtan


Suzhou pingtan
Pingtan, a genre of musical storytelling (see quyi), originated in Suzhou at the end of the Ming dynasty and employs the Suzhou dialect as its linguistic medium. It enjoyed its golden age during the first sixty years of the twentieth century in Shanghai as well as in the southern part of Jiangsu and northern part of Zhejiang provinces. It has two forms: tanci and pinghua. A tanci performance can be solo, duo or trio, telling a story through prose narration and lyric singing and accompanied by a plucked instrument, either pipa or sanxian; a pinghua performance is usually staged by one storyteller without singing. In both forms, the stories are generally traditional romances, and the storytellers sit at table but may move around as they impersonate characters in the narration. Stage props mainly consist of a folding fan that can be used to symbolize anything.
While its traditional repertoire was banned during the Cultural Revolution, pingtan still enjoyed a special status as a preferred medium for singing poems by Mao Zedong, making pingtan’s musical component known and appreciated throughout China, despite the dialectal barrier. Since the late 1970s, the traditional repertoire has been revived. With competition from new forms of entertainment, pingtan artists are now trying various means to reach and attract audiences. There are now around thirty-five pingtan troupes in the region, performing both in traditional and non-traditional venues: pingtan theatres (shuchang), teahouses and restaurants, professional gala performances (huishu), pingtan societies (shuhui) and radio and television broadcasts. The format of the performance varies in each of these venues. In shuchang, each show usually begins with a kaipian, an independent aria sung to open the show and to warm up the audience, and is followed by an episode from the previous day’s performance. A run of performances lasts anywhere from a week to half a month, after which a new run begins with a couple of different performers. The audiences are mainly dedicated fans and old people. A programme in a restaurant, however, would contain more singing pieces and offer more episodes independent of one another because the audiences are always different. A huishu performance is usually held in a large theatre on a festive or commemorative occasion and offers a comprehensive programme composed of a series of short episodes by well-known artists, promising young performers and noted piaoyou (non-professional artists), attracting a diverse audience including young people. The regular activities of pingtan societies feature both professional and non-professional performers.
The venue that reaches the largest audience of different age groups has been radio and television, and certain channels in the region have been providing set time-slots for pingtan programmes. More stories on contemporary themes have been added to the pingtan repertoire. While performing a traditional story, the storyteller often uses his/her narrative skills to refer to various phenomena of the contemporary society for comments, satire and comic relief.
Bender, Mark (2003). Plum and Bamboo. China’s Suzhou Chantefable Tradition. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Jiangsusheng quyijia xiehui (ed.) (1991). Pingtan yishu (Pingtan Arts) 13. Suzhou: Xinhua chubanshe.
(1991-). Pingtan yishu (Pingtan Arts) 14 on. Suzhou: Jiangsu wenyi chubanshe.
Suzhou pingtan yanjiuhui (ed.) (1982–5). Pingtan yishu (Pingtan Arts) 1–4. Beijing: Zhongguo quyi chubanshe;
(1986–90). Pingtan yishu (Pingtan Arts) 5–11, Suzhou: Zhongguo quyi chubanshe.
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Wu, Zongxi (ed.) (1996). Pingtan wenhua cidian [Encyclopedia of Pingtan Culture]. Shanghai: Hanyu da cidian chubanshe.
DU WENWEI

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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