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Suzhou Pingtan

Suzhou Pingtan

Suzhou tanci is a general term denoting art form of “Xiaoshu” performance with storytelling in the Suzhu dialect. Flourishing in the Wu dialect of Suzhou of southeast of Jiangsu Province, northern Zhejiang Province and Shanghai, it was formed about in the late years of Ming Dynasty and the early years of Qing Dynasty. Due to the same industry and association with Suzhou storytelling, it was used to regard both of them as “Suzhou Pingtan” in the folk. 

The performances of Suzhou tanci are speaking only and with singing in the performance. While singing, performers often used a three-stringed plucked instrument and Chinese lute as accompaniments. While storytelling, they may use xingmu as instrument to perform. Performers use a storytelling tone which is called, “Shu tone.” As many musical schools emerged in spreading, the “Shu tone” is called the “basic tone.” In the early times, it is performed solo of actor who tell story while playing a three-stringed plucked instrument and later comes into being the duet and trio.  

Suzhou tanci is profound in artistic tradition and developed in techniques. It can be concluded into “storytelling, joke cracking, music playing and aria singing”. “Story telling” means narrating. “Joke cracking” means to make people laugh. “Music playing” is to play with a three-stringed plucked instrument and Pipa (Chinese lute), namely, singing and playing. “Aria singing” means performing and singing. Among the four types, “story telling” is more captivating because it involves narrating, endorsement, illustration and comment. In the process of performance, many different types of storytelling methods and techniques have emerged such as guanbai, sibai, gubai, biaobai, chenbai, tuobai which not only express peoples psychological activities, internal monologue and mutual dialogues but narrate, explain and comments on the identity of the storyteller. Performers take kunqu opera and peking opera as a reference and apply it to their voice changes, body movements and facial expressions to transmit their meaning and mould figures. In the pursuit of aesthetic appreciation, Suzhou pintan stresses on “logical thoughts, enjoyment, humor, refined words and technique application.”