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 (8)

Verbal art

The large majority of storytellers' terms is concerned with the verbal activity. The "mouth" kou has after all the most important role in this art. A good storyteller is called an "embroidered mouth" xiukou, while the opposite is called a "blunt mouth" dunkou.

The words should come smoothly and continuously, a basic demand in storytelling technique:

kuai er bu luan,
man er bu duan

Fast-but not confused,
slow-but without interruption

The flow of rhythm should be varied, sometimes fast like "pouring water from a clean vase" jin ping dao shui, sometimes slow like "silkworms spitting silk" chun can tu si.

In addition the performer must master the art of "mouth acrobatics" kouji, imitation of all kinds of non-linguistic sounds, the so-called "six skills" liu ji:

Galloping, drumming, shooting, crying, laughing, roaring
ma, gu, pao, ku, xiao, zao

The enumeration of six kinds is only suggestive, not exhaustive. Mouth acrobatics is entertaining and easy to appreciate, something the performers are well aware of: they often emphasize this aspect whenever performing for children or strangers who are not used to listen to storytelling. In a traditional performance this element would, however, be used with discrimination.

Prose is the main form of Yangzhou storytelling , but poetry in various meters, is frequently recited (not sung), called:

Poetry, verse, songs and prose-poems
shi ci ge fu

Poems are learned by heart and change very little from performance to performance by the same storyteller, or from one storyteller to the other from the same school of storytelling. Together with proper names of persons and places, as well as certain set-pieces in literary prose, the poetry passages function as mnemonic milestones for the performer. "The road of the story" shuluzi, i.e. the story line, is laid out with memorable persons, places and poems. Over this structure the tale is woven in a vernacular prose allowing much freedom of improvisation to the storyteller.

Next: 'Talk' and 'mouth'