Chinese Storytelling

Chinese Storytelling

Elements of Performance

  1. Storytellers Terms and Sayings

  2. The storytellers house

  3. The performance

  4. A storytelling engagement

  5. Stage properties

  6. The storytellers' dress

  7. Gestures and face expressions

  8. Verbal art

  9. 'Talk' and 'mouth'

  10. 'Square Mouth' and 'Round Mouth'

  11. Telling the tale

  12. Humour and digression

Elements of Performance (4)

A storytelling engagement

The storytellers were engaged on a seasonal basis and the year was divided into four periods of two or three months where one performer was expected to entertain every day for one or two sessions. In some places it was not uncommon to have performances both in the afternoon, "daytime job" ridang and in the evening, "evening job" wandang, or "lamplight storytelling" dengshu. Such a fixed period, or "job" dang, could not be less than forty days, or else it would be difficult to make a contract. At present storytellers are still engaged for such a period in the storytellers' house, but activity is generally limited to two seasons a year. During one season or "job" the storyteller will usually tell one cycle of stories, belonging to his inherited repertoire. The long sagas are told in installments, presupposing a relatively constant body of listeners who follow the development of the tale from day to day.

The mutual competition between storytellers, vying with one another for an audience, is felt in many expressions. It was comfortable to get a "single job" dudang of storytelling in a locality where there was only one storytellers' house, or even if there were several places, only one of them would be offering storytelling at the time. Then is was more demanding to take on a "double job" duidang where two storytellers were giving performances at the same time in the same neighborhood. This common situation would often lead to serious competition between the two engaged storytellers, trying to entice the audience over to themselves, called "beat the opponent in a double job" da duidang. However, expressions indicating mutual help and support are not lacking, for example when three to five storytellers would share the same performance, taking turns on the stage and telling small extracts from their repertoire, called a "common job" gongdang. Such performances were usually for the benefit of some purpose or to help a colleague in difficult circumstances. If a storyteller was unable to begin his "job" on time, or could not carry through during the whole period, he might invite a colleague or his student to substitute him, "fill the hole" diangong. Since wages were mostly in direct proportion to the size of the audience, being collected during performance and shared with the owner of the place, everybody was of course striving to have a "roaring job" hongdang, when the audience would be plentiful, people jamming in and creating a hubbub.

From the aspect of income, some "jobs" were more safe than others: in a "garanteed job" baodang, no matter whether the audience was big or small, the salary of the storyteller was guaranteed by the owner of the place. While this was exceptional in the old days, it is the general rule nowadays, when the storytellers are on a fixed salary, paid by their unit.

Next: Stage properties