Suzhou Pingtan refers to a musical storytelling genre that originated in Suzhou toward the end of the Ming Dynasty (Bender, 1998). This category uses the Suzhou language as its linguistic medium. It is a combination of two forms of Chinese fork art, namely; "Pinghua" and "Tanci." History depicts that the Wu culture influenced Pingtan in music, art, and literature. According to Webster-Cheng (2016), this performance was created by Pingtan artists, and it enjoyed its popularity in the Jiangnan region. Pingtan takes a simple form with rich contents. It employs performing techniques such as music playing, joke-cracking, aria singing, and storytelling (China Daily, 2013). It also uses features such as tastes, interest, logic, and minuteness. Despite originating in Suzhou, Pingtan thrived in Shanghai as a result of economic and cultural development. Consequently, it became a new form of art and performance in the region.
- To investigate the factors that influence the development of Suzhou Pingtan in Jiangsu
- To identify the development and changes of the style, songs, and language of Suzhou Pingtan from 1930 to the present
- To research the status of Suzhou Pingtan in modern society
- To study the changes in the route of promotion of Suzhou Pingtan
- What are the factors that influence the development of Suzhou Pingtan in Jiangsu?
- What are the changes of Suzhou Pingtan in style, songs, and language?
- What is the status of Suzhou Pingtan in modern society?
- What are the changes in the route of promotion of Suzhou Pingtan?
This study collected primary data by using interviews. The researcher interviewed:
Three groups of teachers namely; Zhu Yun Yi and Shen You (In Suzhou); Chen Kang Yu (In Suzhou); and Ruan Luan (In NingDe). Interview topics included the origin of Pingtan; factors that influence the development of Suzhou Pingtan in Jiangsu; changes of Suzhou Pingtan in style, songs and language; status of Suzhou Pingtan in modern society; and the changes in the route of promotion of Suzhou Pingtan. The participants answered the questions through verbal explanations, singing demonstrations, and excerpts played from cassette recordings.
Each group answered the questions using different songs. For Zhu Yun Yi and Shen You, interview songs included "Butterflies Lingering over Flowers" and "Jasmin Flowers." For Chen Kang Yu, the songs included "Beautiful Landscape in China" and "The Story of Minglan." Ruan Luan, on the other hand, answered questions using "An Ode to the Current Life, Spring Rain," and "March of Regions South of the Yangtze River." The participants gave the researcher some videos and introduced the songs.
Factors that Influenced the Development of Suzhou Pingtan in Jiangsu
The researchers found that political, economic, cultural, and social factors influenced the development of Suzhou Pingtan in Jiangsu. Politically, Mao Zedong, a Chinese Communist Revolutionary, influenced the development of Pintang through his slogan, "wed through the old to bring forth the new" (Webster-Cheng, 2016). His motto not only instructed the performers to revise their traditional repertoire but also called for the composition of a new collection. Soon after, the Communist Party of China gave a directive regarding reforms in drama (Jun, 2014). Chen Yun, one of the most influential Chinese leaders, also influenced the development of Pingtan. Chen actively motivated artists to compose new music, especially political songs. For instance, he stressed the composition of new songs that follow socialist political life to develop the use of narrative arts in education (Webster-Cheng, 2016).
Another factor was the booming of the Shanghai economy which resulted in the arrival of various cultures during the mid-19th century and early 20th century (Bender, 2008). At this time, Pingtan absorbed some ideas from different cultures which were well developed. Expansion of performing halls also influenced the development of Pingtan (Fu, 2018). These halls attracted composers, writers, painters, and other artists. Another significant factor was the rise of radio stations and records which marketed and promoted Pingtan art.
Changes of Suzhou Pingtan in Style, Songs, and Language
The development of Suzhou Pingtan has created changes in styles, songs, and language. Due to this development, Pingtan has a great diversity of singing and storytelling styles. According to Webster-Cheng (2016), Yu Tune was used in the 18th century. He stated that this style is characterized by a wide vocal range, highly embellished melody and substantial use of rubato. The second style, Chen Tune, was created in the early 19th century (Hao, 2017). Based on Bender's (2008) finding, this style is accompanied by a tight melodic structure, deep vocal timbre, and emphasis on pronunciation. Later, Ma Tune, which is associated with repeated notes, narrow vocal range, and stepwise musical movements, was established (Jun, 2014).
Regarding music, researchers realized that Suzhou Pingtan songs did not experience many changes since the development of Pingtan. However, the new Pingtan songs include modern takes on old stories and adaptations based on hot social topics (Nan, 2015). Like the past, Suzhou Pingtan songs are still performed by two reporters, narrating the stories of daily life and love affairs. These songs take the form of a ballad. According to Fu (2018), a ballad is a song that tells a dramatic, romantic, or funny story.
Besides, the use of dynamics and instruments in Pingtan songs has changed. Although actors sing Pingtan using a three-string zither lute, some of the artists today are embracing the use of the orchestra. For instance, Gao Bowen, a Chinese artist, mixed Pingtan with rock music and performed it with the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008 (Nan, 2015). Changes in languages have also not occurred. The songs are still performed in Suzhou dialect or Zhongzhouyun based on the context of the story.
Status of Suzhou Pingtan in Modern Society
Suzhou Pingtan is still performed in modern society. Today's Pingtan artists are doing everything they can to reach the audience. Fu (2018) reported that over thirty-five Pingtan troupes are now available in Suzhou. They perform in different venues including Pingtan theaters, radio and television broadcasts, tea houses and restaurants, and Pingtan societies. The performance formats vary in each site. According to Webster-Cheng (2016), each show in Pingtan theaters starts with the opening ballads to warm up the audience. An episode from the past performance then follows the opening ballads. Jun (2014)also noted that independent episodes of singing accompany a program in a restaurant due to the changing audience.
In the same context, Hao (2017) found that Professional gala performances are hosted in a large theater during celebrations and other important events. In his perspective, Pingtan programs are brought in radio and television channels to reach a wide population. Additionally, more stories of the modern themes are also available in the Pingtan repertoire. He added that while telling a traditional story, the narrator often uses his or her narrative skills to refer to a modern situation for satire, comments, and comic relief. Therefore, Suzhou Pingtan is still performed in contemporary Chinese society and is considered as a symbol of a tranquil way of life.
Changes in the Route of Promotion of Suzhou PingtanIt is important to note that Suzhou Pingtan is at the verge of gaining popularity both locally and internationally because of the content of the music. One of the changes in the route of promotion of this genre is language translation. Currently, the common language used in Suzhou. However, many translators are looking forward to translating the music into English and other languages (Webster-Cheng, 2016). Another change in the path is technology. Technology has provided social media platforms, including YouTube, that artists can use to market their work. Maximizing the use of social media platforms will increase the popularity of Suzhou Pingtan.
Promoting and developing Suzhou Pingtan is difficult due to the culture of the music and the language used in the songs. In fact, a few people, in particular, the locals, are familiar with Chinese culture (Suzhou Pingtan). Besides, most of the young people like western music since they believe that Pingtan is old-fashioned.
This research has determined Suzhou Pingtan's development and changes from original to present. Political, economic, social, and cultural factors influenced these changes. The styles have transformed from Yu Tune to Chen Tune to Ma Tune. Although the content of the songs is maintained, the new Pingtan songs include modern takes on old stories and adaptations based on a hot social topic. Language has not experienced many changes because the genre still uses Suzhou dialect. Currently, Suzhou Pingtan is performed in different places in Chinese society, implying that it is alive. Translating the songs to other languages and using social media appropriately will promote Suzhou Pingtan.
Bender, M. (1998). Suzhous tanci storytelling in China: contexts of performance. (pp. 331-367).
China Daily. (2013). Retrieved September 12th, 2019, from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/m/jiangsu/suzhou/travel/2013-01/23/content_16164813.htm
Fu, M. &. (2018). Transformation and Inheritance of Suzhou Pingtan in the Context of Intangible Cultural Heritage. 4th International Conference on Arts, Design and Contemporary Education (ICADCE 2018) (pp. 242-245). Beijing: Atlantis Press.
Hao, S. H. (2007). Changes in Pingtan Culture from the Viewpoint of Social History. Journal of Shanghai Normal University.
Jun, X. I. (2014). Shanghai Pingtan Research Association and Social Transition (1936-1951). Journal of Suzhou College of Education, 4(11).
Nan, C. (2015). Retrieved September 12th, 2019, from China Daily: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/life/2015-05/19/content_20755671.htm
Webster-Cheng, S. (2016). Composing, Revising, and Performing Suzhou Ballads: a Study of Political Control and Artistic Freedom in Tanci, 1949-1964.
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