Saturday, September 6, 2008


Yangge is a form of Chinese folk dance originating from the Song Dynasty. It is very popular in northern China's countryside. Dancers typically use a red silk ribbon around the waist and swing the body to music. In different areas Yang Ge are done in different styles but all express happiness.

Chinese variety

Chinese Variety Art is the name giving to the collection of performances that include a wide range of acrobatic, balancing acts and other spectacles performed by a troupe fashioned in traditional Chinese-style attire. The art originated in China and is still performed today.

Circus vs Variety Art

While the term ''"Chinese Circus"'' has been used to describe Chinese variety arts even in the earliest western historical text. The East views the Chinese term "circus" as a separate western style show altogether. Many exhibitions are similar between the two, and many are different. Elements such as clowns and other large animals are known as western style. Eastern elements include monks, Peking opera characters and for example.


In the Eastern Han Dynasty scholar Zhang Heng was one of the first to describe the acrobatic theme shows in the royal palaces in his writing "Ode to the Western Capital" . The event featured shows such as "Old Man Huang of the Eastern Sea" , the "Dancing Fishing Dragon" and "Assembly of Immortals" . A grand acrobatic show was held by Emperor Wu of Han in 108 BC for foreign guests.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the art forms have gained new respectability. Troupes have been established in the s, s, and special municipals with theaters specifically dedicated to the variety arts. Some troupes have become world famous, playing to packed houses at home and on foreign tours.

It wasn't until the 1990s, however, when the art form was packaged as a complete theme show. Specifically the 1994 show "Golden Wind of the Southwest" led the way with major successes in re-promoting the art as a whole.


Below is a list of performances available in the variety art. Some are more standard, while others are more regional. There is always new innovation taking place.

* on top of rolling globes or balls.
* Tightrope walking
* Contortion acrobatics
* Balancing act while playing Chinese yo-yo
* Shaolin monks resisting projectiles
* Extreme kung fu demonstrations
* unicycle with bowls balancing
* Multi Plate balancing
* Tricks involving smaller animals
* Fire breathing


* Shanghai Circus World

Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar

The Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar, otherwise known as ''siyi'' , is a term used to describe four main requirements of the . They are ''qin'' , ''qi'' , ''shu'' and ''hua'' .

Origin of the concept

Although the individual parts of the concept have very long histories indeed as activities befitting a learned person, the earliest written source putting the four together is Zhang Yanyuan's ''Fashu Yaolu'' from the Tang Dynasty, and as "the four arts" the concept is first found in the ''Xianqing ouqi'' by .


In China to be a scholar is to be an artist. Chinese culture insists that an educated and 'proper' individual's classical training has components of what in Chinese are called ''qin''琴, ''qi''棋, ''shu''书, and ''hua''画. These are translated roughly into "Instrumentation, Board Game, Calligraphy, and Painting. For one to be considered scholarly, or a man of the arts, then those are in fact the arts in which to immerse ones self. The Chinese ideals of an educated man are a test and demonstration of the individual's strength in reason, creation, expression and dexterity, and thus rate highly in China both today and in ancient times.

All of these arts combined made for a platform by which scholars could compete against each others' creativity, expression, ideas, and thinking power. They created a means by which men would judge each other beyond the worth of their possessions. A Chinese pauper who excelled in the arts was as respected as the noble who equaled him. These four arts created a culture in which art flourished freely among the populace.


Qín 琴 refers to the musical instrument of the literati, the . Although it exclusively meant this instrument in ancient times, it has now come to mean all musical instruments, but essentially it refers to gǔqín only considering the context.

The gǔqín is a seven-stringed zither that owes its invention to the Chinese society of some 3,000 years ago. During the reign of the imperial China, a scholar was expected to play the guqin. Gǔqín was explored as an art-form as well as a science, and scholars strove to both play it well and to create texts on its manipulation. Gǔqín notation was invented some 1,500 years ago, and to this day it has not been drastically changed. Some books contain musical pieces written and mastered more than 500 years ago. Gǔqín is so influential that it even made its way into space: the spacecraft voyager launched by the U.S. in 1977 contained a vinyl style record of a gǔqín piece named 'Flowing Water'. The fact that the gǔqín's name breaks down to 'gu' and 'qin' reveals the instrument's great antiquity.

棋 refers to a board game, which is now called wéiqí , literally meaning "surrounding game". Current definitions of ''qí'' cover a wide range of board games and, given that in Classical Chinese qí could also refer to other games, some argue that the qí in the four arts could refer to xiangqi although it is considered more a popular "game of the people" than weiqi, which was a game with aristocratic connotations. Many theories exist regarding the origin of wéiqí in Chinese history. One of these holds that wéiqí was an ancient fortune telling device used by Chinese cosmologists to simulate the universe's relationship to an individual. Another suggests that the legendary emperor invented it to enlighten his son. Certainly wéiqí had begun to take hold around the 6th century BCE when Confucius mentioned wéiqí in his masterpiece Analects 17:22, sometimes erroneously translated as "chess."

Wéiqí is a game in which two players alternate placing black and white stones on a playing surface consisting of a grid of 19x19 lines. Stones are placed on the intersections of the grid, rather than inside the squares as in chess. Stones surrounded on four sides by those of the opposing colour are removed from play, and the overall arrangement of stones must never be repeated twice in one game. The game concludes when both players agree that there are no moves left to play, and so pass. The game is then scored by way of counting the empty playable points that each player has encircled, with captured pieces filling in territory of the same color.

Unlike in chess, complete dominance is not required for victory—the victor is the player with the higher score. The opening stages of the game are known by the Japanese term "fuseki", and often contain the standard corner sequences that are known by the Japanese term "joseki." Good moves usually have several different purposes and create more opportunities than can be blocked by the opponent in a single response. Wéiqí texts of both modern and ancient kinds are prized among modern Chinese wéiqí professionals, as seen below in the translation of an ancient Chinese wéiqí strategy book:

"The most celebrated go manual is the Chinese ''Xuanxuan Qijing''. It was published in 1349 by Yan Defu and Yan Tianzhang. The former was a strong go player and the latter a collector of old go books. They made a perfect team. The title of the book is literally ''The Classic of the Mystery of the Mysterious'', but it is an allusion to Chapter 1 of Lao Zi's ''Dao De Jing'' where the reference goes on to say that the mystery of the mysterious is 'the gateway to all marvels'. I prefer that as a title, especially as it is made clear in the preface that this latter phrase is meant to be called to mind, and is meant to imply that the book offers the way to mastering marvels in the form of go tesujis."


Shū 書 refers to Chinese calligraphy, which dates to the origins of recorded Chinese history, in essence ever since written characters have existed. Chinese calligraphy is said to be an expression of a practitioners poetic nature, as well as a significant test of manual dexterity. Chinese calligraphy has evolved for thousands of years, and its state of flux stopped only when Chinese characters were unified across the empire. Chinese calligraphy differs from western calligraphic script in the sense that it was done with a brush instead of metal implements or a quill. Calligraphy was the art by which a scholar could compose his thoughts to be immortalized. It was the scholar's means of creating expressive poetry and sharing his or her own learnedness.

Calligraphic process is also structured in the same way as wéiqí. A minimalist set of rules conveys a system of incredible complexity and grandeur. Every character from the Chinese scripts is built into a uniform shape by means of assigning it a geometric area in which the character must occur. Only four basic forms are used in the creation of the character, those being square, triangle and circle. Each character has a set number of brushstrokes, none must be added or taken away from the character to enhance it visually, lest the meaning be lost. Finally, strict regularity is not required, meaning the strokes may be accentuated for dramatic effect of individual style. Calligraphy was the means by which scholars could mark their thoughts and teachings for immortality, and as such, represent some of the more precious treasures that can be found from ancient China.

"The most valued of all art treasures in China have been examples of the writing of certain aristocrats from the fourth century CE, including casual notes exchanged between them. The process whereby this came about is a lengthy one. It had to do with religious developments in the third-seventh centuries. It was also connected intimately to the role of writing in upper class life, to notions of personality, and the visible expression of personality. The notion of writing as an art form however probably does not appear until the early centuries of the common era. It is linked to the emergence of the idea of the artist as an individual whose personal qualities allow command of the technical resources to produce work of a higher quality and greater value than that of the common run of writers."


Huà 畫 refers to Chinese painting. Brush painting is the final of the arts that a scholar is expected to learn, and is unarguably the greatest measure of individual creativity. Through painting a Chinese noble would demonstrate his mastery over the art of line. Often Chinese paintings would be produced on a sheet of plain white rice-paper or silk using nothing but black ink and a single brush. These paintings were made to demonstrate the power of a single line, and in them was reflected a skill that valued intentional and calculated strokes over instinctual erratic creation. In a Chinese painting was reflected the artist's ability to evaluate his own imagination and record it clearly and concisely. Chinese painting can be traced back even farther than calligraphy. Some examples date back to the decorative paintings that were emblazoned on neolithic pottery. To add tonal quality to paintings the artists would often paint portions of the subject then wash the cloth before continuing. This made for beautiful landscapes and depictions of ritual. Painting was the art by which a scholar could separate him of herself from the others and take a name.

"The growing complexity of society at the end of the sixteenth century was reflected in an enriched cultural life in which heterogeneous tastes supported a wide variety of artists and craftsmen: the presence of foreigners at court and increasing affluence, which made the merchants independent of the court and of the official class, were only two of the many factors which nurtured artistic diversity. Individuality also began to be considered an important quality in the painter; indeed, a small group of artists were even known as the 'individualists'."


''Kouji'' , which can be translated literally as "mouth skill" or "skill of mouth" is a vocal mimicry performance art which utilizes the human speech organs to mimic the sounds of everyday life. When this vocal mimicry is combined with varying degrees of story telling, acting, and singing, it results in the basic structure for a Kouji performance. The sounds most commonly used in Kouji tend to be those of animals, such as birds or dogs, but with the advancement of technology, Kouji has also come to incorporate imitations of busses, planes, and modern weapons. It is also now common to use a microphone in the performance of Kouji. Often times the Kouji of a highly skilled performer so accurately mimics real life sounds that if the audience were to close their eyes, they might not be able to tell that the sounds were being produced by a human. Although it is an art form in and of itself, it may often be performed in combination with other traditional Chinese art forms such as Cross-talk. The primary objective of a Kouji performance is to bring joy to the audience through the sounds of their everyday lives, in a celebration of the harmony which exists between human beings and nature.

Elements of Kouji Performance

Mimicry – The principle and most difficult element of a Kouji performance is of course the vocal mimicry. It has neither a theoretical basis nor a concrete standard framework, and instead relies on the performer’s own talent and hard work in attempting to imitate the sounds of their environment.

Dialogue – It is often necessary to use an appropriate amount of dialogue to accompany vocal mimicry in a Kouji performance. The main aim of using dialogue is to strengthen the connection between the performer and the audience. Dialogue is used as an introduction and a guide throughout the performance. It may be carried out in the form of narration, poetry recitation, or Shuo-chang monologues which may be used to introduce a performance.

Humor – Use of comedy serves to enrich a Kouji performance by providing an entertaining context in which to use vocal mimicry. Through humor the audience is invited to follow their innate instinct and laugh at the comical noises coming from the mouth of the performer. Humor fills out and gives character to a performance.

Singing – Often times singing is also used in Kouji in order to reference well known songs. In addition, some Kouji performers may also choose to imitate the singing voice of a particular recording artist to display the extent of their vocal mimicry skills.


Although Kouji is believed by many to have origins in the animal calls used by hunters in tribal society, there are unfortunately no historical accounts of its transition from such a context into a performance art. The first historical account of Kouji ever recorded was over 2,300 years ago in Shandong province during the warring states period. In the year 298 BC there was a Qin prime minister named Mengchang who was a student of Confucius, and accumulated over 3,000 followers. Mengchang found himself in a difficult situation when the Qin ruler began to believe that Mengchang could be spying on him for the neighboring state in which he was raised, and Mengchang was jailed. Mengchang tried to win his freedom by sending away for some very special garments to give the Qin ruler’s wife in an attempt to win her over, and thus gain his freedom. Complications arose however when the garments were seized by the guards and locked away. It was at this point that Mengchang used his followers’ Kouji skills to steal back the clothes by luring the guards away by mimicking the barking of dogs. When the clothes were retrieved, they were successfully passed on to the ruler’s wife who was deeply touched and sent immediately for the release of Mengchang. By the time that the Qin ruler discovered what had happened, Mengchang and his followers had already began to flee.

When they had reached a nearby mountain pass which was their gateway to freedom, the Qin guards were hot on their trail. They needed to get through the mountains immediately, but it was still night time and the gatekeepers were not permitted to open the pass until the roosters’ crows signaled that the morning had come. Yet again, one of Mengchang’s followers used his Kouji skills to mimic a rooster and trigger all of the local roosters to crow. This signaled that morning had come and allowed the gatekeepers to open the pass for Mengchang’s successful escape. Although this historical record of Kouji from the warring states period was the first ever to be documented, more documentation followed as time passed. In fact, another student of Confucius named Gongchang Zhi who actually married one of the great thinker’s daughters, was himself known to be a performer of Kouji noted for his bird call mimicry during the same period.

It was during the Tang and Song dynasties that Kouji’s development as an art form began to experience slightly more attention from the Chinese state. During these dynasties Kouji was one of the most popular forms of entertainment amongst the common people. As is Chinese political tradition to offer support and resources as a method of incorporation into the state, the government realized the power and importance of Kouji for the Chinese people and began to aid the development of the art form. In order to promote Kouji and train those who practiced it, a society of vocal mimicry was set up by the government.

During this period of Kouji’s history in the Song dynasty, truly legendary Kouji masters began to gain fame which has survived up until today. During the rule of Hui Zong there was a Kouji master who was nick named Liu Baiqin because he was phenomenal at mimicking bird songs. His level of mastery was so high that his abilities were not only confined to performance. Liu was also able to communicate with birds in trees. The most famous female Kouji Master of all time Wen Banian, also made a name for herself during this same time period by performing her renowned mimicry of fruit peddlers’ cries. With government support and popular demand combined, Kouji found itself in a favorable position as far as nurturing new talents.

The following years were marked by the arrival of celebrated masters of Kouji who advanced the art form by building off of the work of their predecessors. During the Ming Dynasty, the most famous Kouji Master was Fang Zhailang who is best known for his ability to imitate the dialects of different regions. Gou Maoer, who lived and performed during the early period of the Qing Dynasty, made his name by creating and performing such pieces as “slaughtering pigs” and “pigs fighting for food”. These are amongst the performances that have been passed down through the generations and can still be seen today. Later on in the Qing dynasty during the reign of Emperor Guangxu there was a very eminent Kouji master who was famous for his mimicry of a song bird called the Hwamei , and therefore was nicknamed Hwamei Yang. Amongst his great performances was “two birds fighting over food”, which is now on the verge of extinction.

It can be said that Kouji entered into a new phase of its history beginning in the 1930s when a Shanghai Kouji Master by the name of Yin Shilin implemented radical alterations in the way that Kouji was performed. Traditionally the Kouji master would sit at a big square table surrounded with a screen called an “eight Immortals” table, which had a fan and a piece of wood on it. With the assistance of these tools, the performer would execute various vocal mimicry acts to entertain the audience who could only hear but not see their performance. The tools were important because they could make up for certain sounds that human speech organs are incapable of producing. Also, the screen allowed the performer to not think about facial expressions and gestures, and concentrate strictly on the sounds that they were making. After the 1930s when the screen and tools were taken away from the stage however, the audience could not only hear the vocal mimicry, but see the artists’ facial expressions and gestures as well. It was at this point in history that Kouji went from being called “drama behind a screen” to Kouji, meaning “vocal skill” or “skill of mouth” . Thus through a combination of imitation of sounds and stage performance, Kouji came to be what some might call a more engaging entertainment experience for the audience.

After the formation of the People’s Republic of China, Kouji began to reach new audiences around the globe. Kouji masters such as the above mentioned Yin Shilin and his disciple Zhou Zhicheng , traveled abroad extensively to perform Kouji. Largely by touring with acrobat troupes, performers began to gain Kouji an international reputation as “an amazing oriental art”. Kouji Master Sun Tai, while in Poland even won a gold medal at the Warsaw International Acrobatics Competition for his performances. Since the Internationalization of Kouji, its relationship with the global community has expanded beyond entertainment for common people into use for Chinese diplomacy. Kouji master Niu Yuliang who currently resides in Beijing, has traveled to over 30 countries and performed for the likes of the King of Cambodia and the former US President George Bush Sr.

Current Status

Kouji has been in constant development through out the generations and ups and downs of history ever since the Tang dynasty. Today, Kouji finds itself facing a new set of generational challenges which threaten to change it forever. A lack of dedicated young disciples not only threatens to minimize Kouji’s presence in the fabric of Chinese culture, but it is also the cause for concern that many traditional performances might be lost forever. An increasing interest amongst the younger generation of China in new and foreign art forms suggests that to a great extent, traditional performance arts such as Kouji might lose some of their attractiveness to the future generations of Chinese. As an art form with a history of over 2,300 years that has traveled the world showcasing the artistic creativity and intelligence of the Chinese people, it has surprisingly still not received any direct support for preservation from the government. As the Chinese government becomes increasingly enthusiastic about preservation of their vast intangible cultural heritage, many hope that Kouji will come under the grace of their assistance as well.


To become a master of Chinese Kouji requires much more than may meet the eye. First and foremost a Kouji master must achieve an advanced level of excellence in vocal mimicry. This level of excellence however means little without the possession of natural stage presence and a passion for performance. In addition to being able to perform high level vocal mimicry skills with a contagious stage presence, a master of Kouji must also hold a profound dedication to their art. This means that when they perform they are fully aware that they are not only performing for themselves and their current audience, but for all past and future Kouji masters and audiences as well. Responsibilities intimately connected with this dedication are the learning of classic performances, and the commitment to passing them on to the coming generations.
Beyond all aspects of Kouji mastery directly related to the performance and preservation of the art form, there is one additional characteristic that any true Kouji master must possess. This final characteristic is a profound understanding that everything which a Kouji master has, was given to him by the people and therefore truly belongs to them and not the master himself. Thus an intense commitment to the well being of all people is also a precursor to achieving mastery in the Chinese art form of Kouji.


A key element of Chinese Kouji is the manner in which it is passed on to successive generations. This may take the form of either family inheritance, or a combination of family and master-disciple inheritance. Perhaps partially as a result of its involvement in Chinese military code talking, Kouji disciples have been limited to citizens of the Chinese state. In fact, in 1956 Zhou En Lai refused an offer by the Soviet government to exchange their two best acrobat training programs for one Kouji training program. Although the two countries were on good terms at the time, Zhou stated that Kouji was a special cultural heritage that belonged to the Chinese, and should thus be protected.



Pingshu "storytelling" is one of forms of entertainment for average people in North China. Foreigners who visit Beijing will often find taxi drivers listening to it. A section of a story lasts half an hour, and it's broadcast three times a day. Nowadays because of the wide spread of the Internet, this form of entertainment has lost its past glory among younger generations in cities.

It was extremely popular in 1980s, when the Chinese people were able to afford a radio, 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, in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, listening to these stories, many of which originated from ancient Chinese history. In the countryside, farmers would take a radio to their fields and listened to the stories while they were plowing. 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'' , the ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'' , and The Story of Sui and Tang Dynasties gained popularity among young and old and became major topics of conversation. Famous storytellers or Pingshu performers such as Shan Tianfang (单田芳), Yuan Kuocheng (袁阔成)(1929-- ), and Liu Lanfang (刘兰芳), consequently became well-known.

Pingshu performers often wear gowns and stand behind a table, with a folded fan and a gavel . 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 performers talk in Putonghua based on the Beijing dialect. This is the popular practice 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. It can be thus considered that the art of storytelling represented by pingshu is one of the genres imbued with special Chinese characteristics and the richest colors of Chinese aesthetics.


''Shuochang'' is a form of traditional storytelling , with many regional subgenres; it is also often referred to as "narrative." ''Shuochang'' performances usually intermix speaking and singing, and are accompanied by percussion instruments and sometimes also plucked or bowed string instruments.

''Shuochang'' is most often performed by a solo male or female singer, although it may also be performed by two singers. The singers may provide their own accompaniment with hand-held percussion such as clappers or a small drum, or there may also be a small ensemble of one or two musicians.

The term ''shuochang'' has, since the late 20th century, also come to be used in China to refer to .


*Danxian - Beijing
*Yangzhou pinghua

Chinese theatre

Chinese theatre has a long and complex history. Today it is often called Chinese opera although this normally refers specifically to the popular form known as Beijing Opera; there have been many other forms of theatre in China.

History of Chinese theatre

There are references to theatrical entertainments in China as early as 1500 BC during the Shang Dynasty; they often involved music, clowning and acrobatic displays.

The Tang Dynasty is sometimes known as "The Age of 1000 Entertainments". During this era, Ming Huang formed an acting school known as the The Pear Garden to produce a form of drama that was primarily musical. That is why actors are commonly called "Children of the Pear Garden."

During the Dynasty of Empress Ling, first emerged as a recognized form of theatre in China. There were two distinct forms of shadow puppetry, Cantonese and Pekingese . The two styles were differentiated by the method of making the puppets and the positioning of the rods on the puppets, as opposed to the type of performed by the puppets. Both styles generally performed plays depicting great adventure and fantasy, rarely was this very stylized form of theatre used for political propaganda. Cantonese shadow puppets were the larger of the two. They were built using thick leather which created more substantial shadows. Symbolic color was also very prevalent; a black face represented honesty, a red one bravery. The rods used to control Cantonese puppets were attached perpendicular to the puppets’ heads. Thus, they were not seen by the audience when the shadow was created. Pekingese puppets were more delicate and smaller. They were created out of thin, translucent leather . They were painted with vibrant paints, thus they cast a very colorful shadow. The thin rods which controlled their movements were attached to a leather collar at the neck of the puppet. The rods ran parallel to the bodies of the puppet then turned at a ninety degree angle to connect to the neck. While these rods were visible when the shadow was cast, they laid outside the shadow of the puppet; thus they did not interfere with the appearance of the figure. The rods attached at the necks to facilitate the use of multiple heads with one body. When the heads were not being used, they were stored in a muslin book or fabric lined box. The heads were always removed at night. This was in keeping with the old superstition that if left intact, the puppets would come to life at night. Some puppeteers went so far as to store the heads in one book and the bodies in another, to further reduce the possibility of reanimating puppets. Shadow puppetry is said to have reached its highest point of artistic development in the eleventh century before becoming a tool of the government.

In the Song Dynasty, there were many popular plays involving acrobatics and music. These developed in the Yuan Dynasty into a more sophisticated form with a four or five act structure.

Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance in the form of a monologue or a dialogue.

Modern drama has Chinese acrobatics to thank for its skilled choreography and delectable theater business.

Yuan drama spread across China and diversified into numerous regional forms, the best known of which is Beijing Opera, which is still popular today.