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 (9)

"Talk" and "mouth"

The division between dramatic and narrative modes of telling - in Western narrative theory called "showing" versus "telling" or " scene" versus "summary" - is also one of the basic distinctions in the storytellers' conception of their modes of narrative. For this purpose they distinguish different kinds of " talk" bai: Every tale is produced by a combination of dialogue, called "public talk" guanbai, and non-dialogue, i.e. all other forms of narration, called "private talk" sibai. The latter category includes narration of events, descriptions of persons and scenery, storyteller's comments and - perhaps somewhat astonishing - inner monologues of the characters of the tale.

The storytellers further operate with a set of different styles of telling, called "speaking mouth" shuokou, or just "mouth" kou. The individual shuokou is characterized by special articulation and voice quality as well as mode and style. There are a number of different styles, some of which indicate modulation of pitch, loudness, rhythm and breathing technique: Accelerating speed and special breathing technique, typical of "bold mouth" pokou, is used for emphasis, for example in linked passages where the last words of one sentence are repeated at the beginning of the following sentence. Telling a long passage of several sentences all in one breath, accelerating the pace, but keeping every syllable distinct, is called "piling-up-mouth" duikou. Accelerating speed together with a decrescendo of loudness and pitch are used for ending a performance, "closing mouth" shoukou.

The most important "speaking mouths" are, however, the so-called "square mouth" fangkou and "round mouth" yuankou, implying a shifting of register, which is felt in phonology, grammar and style. The categories of " public talk" and "private talk" may both occur within the two registers of " square mouth" and "round mouth".

Dialogue (Wang Xiaotang)
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mpeg 4.7Mb
Monologue and Dialogue (Ren Jitang)
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'Bold mouth' (Wang Xiaotang)
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Next: "Square Mouth" and "Round Mouth"