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Pingshu (simplified Chinese: 评书; traditional Chinese: 評書; pinyin: Píngshū), or shuoshu (说书), meaning “storytelling”, is a form of entertainment in Chinese culture. It is also called pinghua (评话) in South China. Travelers in Beijing will often find taxi drivers listening to it on the radio.
Pingshu was extremely popular in the 1980s, when the Chinese people were able to afford radios, through which many of such storytelling programs were transmitted to every household. People, young and old, would stick to the radio when they had the time, listening to these stories, many of which originated from ancient Chinese history. In the countryside, farmers would take radios to their fields and listen to the stories while they were working. In cities, old men would sit in a comfortable bamboo chair enjoying the stories while sipping tea. Many stories such as The Story of Yue Fei (說岳全傳), the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義), Cavalier with White Eyebrows (白眉大侠), and Sui Tang Yanyi (隋唐演義) gained popularity among young and old and became major topics of conversation. Famous storytellers or Pingshu performers such as Shan Tianfang (单田芳, 1934-2018), Yuan Kuocheng (袁阔成, 1929-2015), Tian Lianyuan (田连元, born 1941), and Liu Lanfang (刘兰芳, born 1944) consequently became well-known.
Pingshu performers often wear gowns and stand behind a table, with a folded fan and a gavel (serving as a prop to strike the table as a warning to the audience to be quiet or as a means of attracting attention in order to strengthen the effect of the performance, especially at the beginning or during intervals). They often add their own commentaries on the subjects and the characters in their storytelling. In this way, the audience, while watching their performances, is not only entertained, but also educated and enlightened.
Pingshu is popular in North and most of Northeast China. The art of storytelling, with its broad mass appeal, has resulted in the growth of other art forms, nurturing talented artists. Many great writers, in consequence, continued from there to tread the path of literature.