Chinese Storytelling

Chinese Storytelling

Masters and Disciples

  1. The Father of Storytelling
  2. Early Masters
  3. Schools of Storytelling
  4. Deng School of Water Margin
  5. Song School of Water Margin
  6. Li School of Three Kingdoms
  7. Ren School of Three Kingdoms
  8. Dai School of Journey to the West
  9. The repertoires
  10. Water Margin in Yangzhou Storytelling
  11. The Wang school of Water Margin
  12. Three Kingdoms in Yangzhou storytelling
  13. Journey to the West in Yangzhou storytelling
  14. Transmission of the art and training of disciples
  15. Oral transmission and teaching from the heart
  16. Written librettos for storytelling


Masters and Disciples (3)

Schools of storytelling

The concept of storytellers' 'schools', called ’door’ men, ’house’ jia or ’branch’ pai, should be understood in the context of transmission from master to disciple of repertoire and performance technique. In the description of the development of Yangzhou storytelling from c.1600-1850, certain themes, such as San Guo, Shuihu turn up again and again. But one cannot speak about 'schools' yet, because too little is known about the transmission. Only the names of single famous storytellers and their repertoires are extant, but it is not possible to follow the transmission from one master to his students and from these students on to further students.

However, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, individual storytellers trace their master-disciple ancestors through as much as seven generations of unbroken transmission. Yangzhou storytelling, like other local traditions of storytelling in China, is from this period divided into a number of specific ‘schools’ menpai of storytelling, classified according to repertoires and founding masters. Each lineage or school of storytelling has not only a specific repertoire, but also a particular style and narrative technique. The main schools with unbroken transmission from the 1800s until today are:

Li School of Three Kingdoms
Founding master: Li Guohui

Ren School of Three Kingdoms
Founding master: Ren Decheng
(Also called: Lan School after a later master)

Deng School of Water Margin
Founding master: Deng Guangdou

Song School of Water Margin
Founding master: Xu Dianzhang

School of Qingfeng Lock
Founding masters: Pu Lin and Gong Wuting

Wang School of Green Peony
Founding master: Wang Kunshan

Apart from these traditions, Yangzhou storytelling comprises about sixty other titles of novel-length sagas, called ‘books’ shu, part of which are now extinct in oral transmission.

The oldest and major schools of Yangzhou storytelling have grown up around the themes of Water Margin and Three Kingdoms. Around the turn of the twentieth century a new cycle of tales was created on the background of the written novel Journey to the West. Dai Shanzhang, the founding father of this school, re-created the written stuff material of the novel according to the tradition of Yangzhou storytelling, basing himself on the oral practice of his original repertoire of the cycle Western Han.

The following tables of storytellers’ schools represent a simplified survey of the relationship between masters and disciples. They are, however, not exhaustive: Since only some of the storytellers of the same school are related by blood, the lineages comprise both family relationships and pure master/student relationships. However, it was quite common for a student to frequent several masters and perhaps learn something from different schools, which he combined in his own performances. Or a student might be the son of a storyteller, but later study with other storytellers as well. These more complicated relationships are generally not incorporated in the tables at hand.

Next: Deng School of Water Margin