Performance “Storysinging and storytelling in China”

Cà Foscari
plus OCT, 18 2014

Saturday October 18th, 2014

Auditorium Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 3689, Venice

Free entrance


Yangzhou Style

Ma Xiaolong, storyteller

Ren Dekun, storyteller

Shen Zhifeng, storysinger e sanxian (three stringed lute)

Tanci Style

Gao Bowen, storysinger e sanxian

Lu Jinhua, cantastorie e pipa (four stringed lute)

Dai Xiaolian, guqin (seven stringed zither)

Nanguan Style

Cai Yayi, storysinger e pipa

Abbi Patrix, storyteller (La Maison du Conte)

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The Intercultural Institute for Comparativa Music Studies organize, in collaboration with Department of Asian and North African Studies, Ca’ Foscari University Venice, Confucius Institute at Ca’ Foscari University Venice and CHIME (Foundation for Chinese Music Research, Leiden) , during the international workshop called “Storytteling and storysinging in China”, a performance dedicated to Chinese storytellers. Many artists coming from different locations in China will perform. They will represent different genres and narrative styles. In addition to them, the programme will include a short piece by a famous French storyteller Abbi Patrix (from La Maison du Conte).

Ever since antiquity, teahouses, traditional theatres, public markets, elegant gardens, and other indoor or outdoor spaces in China have set the stage for regional storytellers and storysingers. They perform with plucked instruments and drums or without, sometimes merely with a fan or a small woodblock to underpin the turns and twists in their stories. The performing styles differ from opera-like to ‘rap’, from delicate and subdued to rowdy, from ‘country-and-western’-like to meditative and classically refined.

Truly sophisticated forms of Chinese narrative performance include genres like Suzhou storysinging (Suzhou tanci), Yangzhou storytelling (Yangzhou pinghua) and southern love balladry (Nanyin). The northern part of China features a wide range of marvellous song genres accompanied by a flat drum, such as Big Drum Songs from the Capital (Jingyun dagu), and there are numerous lesser known narrative forms: rural or urban, professional or amateur, with or without music, rough or refined, in verse or in prose.

Some genres are sung throughout, some alternate between singing and speech, or rely on speech altogether. The most commonly used musical instruments are lutes, fiddles, drums, clappers, gongs and cymbals. The narrative content draws on everlasting historical, religious and spiritual themes, and ranges from classical tales about love, betrayal and heroism to ghost stories, gossip, local news, political commentary and commercial advertising.

A number of genres can be traced far back into history, to the Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties, and they also borrow a part of their narrative content from literary sources from this period (the 10th to the 14th century). Other genres are more recent, or rely so much on oral transmission that it would be impossible to trace their actual age. There is a veritable cornucopia of performing styles and types, with intriguing names like ‘Talking bamboo’, ‘Clapper gossip’ and more.

The artists are equally varied in kind. Some have learned the tricks in the trade from their parents. Storysingers frequently pass on the profession from father to son, or mother to daughter, and earn their living as itinerant artists at temple fairs and street markets and temple feasts or as employees of teahouses and theatres. Some have built up reputations as master performers and may occasionally be heard on radio and television or found on the internet. Traditionally, many performers were united in local guilds which supervised their professional and business interests.