Sagas of Storytelling
Sagas of Storytelling (1)
The living tradition of Yangzhou storytelling contains a large reservoir of repertoires for oral performance, in Chinese called ‘ text’ or ‘book’ shu. The storytellers are educated since childhood by their master in one or two repertoires, and each oral ‘text’ is usually of tremendous length. Some storytellers have a repertoire of four ‘seasons’ or more, which when written down approximates forty thick volumes of text. The historical themes of their tales are as old as Chinese history itself, beginning with the Zhou dynasty (1027-256 bc), the most famous being the tale of the Three Kingdoms San guo from the end of the Han (c. 220 ad), the Journey to the West Xiyou ji from the early Tang period (618-907) and the Water Margin Shuihu from c.1100 during the Song period (960-1276). These tales are told according to the inherited style of the master and the school of storytelling to which the performer belongs, incorporating long passages of memorized text and wordings, but also with a wide room for improvisation.
The storytellers who tell the same repertoire and have been taught by the same master, or by disciples from the same master, are said to belong to the same ‘school’ of storytelling. In Yangzhou there were formerly more than sixty great repertoires and corresponding ‘schools’, but many are now extinct in oral transmission. Sometimes there are several schools who share the same theme, but have widely different oral versions. In Yangzhou storytelling the tradition of Three Kingdoms is, thus, divided into two famous schools: the Kang School and the Wu School. Water Margin is at present represented mainly by the school of the famous storyteller Wang Shaotang (1889-1968), called the Wang School. Journey to the West is represented by the Dai School. Below, please, find short extracts from performances by master tellers from these four different schools who tell episodes from the three sagas.