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Pingtan artist keeps hope

AFTER lunchtime spent at a teahouse, Pingtan artist Zhou Hong drove her Buick LaCROSSE to a residential area. She pulled up in front of a performance hall named Baiduren, which means "ferryman" in Chinese. In a small dressing room, she did her makeup and talked with her partner Xu Huixin about their upcoming performance. There were still two days to go before the end of the 16-day serial performance of "Qiuhaitang", a long story that requires 32 hours' oral narration.

Some 150 spectators, most of whom were retirees, enjoyed a two-hour performance on that rainy afternoon. The ticket was sold at 5 yuan (0.8 U.S. dollar) per person, including a cup of green tea.

"I can earn 10,000 yuan (1589 U.S. dollars) for a half-hour performance in some private salons, but I don't want to lose the elderly audience. They need us," said Mrs. Zhou. "And we need them too, as they are the pillar of the Pingtan art."

Leaving the Baiduren, she headed for Shanghai Business and Tourism School, a technical secondary school, where she gave Pingtan lessons to several students interested in this art. Mrs. Zhou gives four lessons to the students each week, including weekend. She also teaches a group of pupils at a local elementary school.

"The Pingtan audience mainly comprises the elderly; few children and young people would bother to like this traditional art, because younger generations have a variety of options for entertainment," said Mrs. Zhou. "This oral performance art may become extinct when the elderly audience pass away. I must do something to let children familiarize with Pingtan and learn to enjoy it."

Born in 1967, Mrs. Zhou is one of the top Pingtan artists in China. She began to learn Pingtan at eleven, gained fame and prestige through hardwork, and became the sole heir to "Li tone", a tone style in Pingtan performance. "I'm impressed by her performance; she is one of the best artists in my view," praised Tan Dun, a renowned classical composer, after watching Mrs. Zhou's performance.

Pingtan, which developed from the storytelling art of the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties, is performed solo, in duet or as a trio, with both singing and storytelling involved. Pingtan performers should learn five basic skills: speaking, imitating, instrument playing, singing and acting. Pingtan demands that performers be excellent actors, singers and storytellers.

"Pingtan is perhaps harder to learn and enjoy than pop, but I think few arts can compete with it in terms of diversity and abundance," said Mrs. Zhou. "I wish to see a resurgence of Pingtan."


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