Xiangsheng (Comic Dialogue) is one of the most
popular and influential types of quyi.
It can be said that nobody in China does not know or like it. It is humorous and
highly satirical by nature. Though similar performances had been popular for
centuries, it was only in the reign (1851-1861) of Emperor Xianfeng of the Qing
Dynasty that xiangsheng became established as an independent art form.
The first xiangsheng artists were Zhang Sanlu and Zhu Shaowen, the latter's
stage name being Qiong Bupa.
Qiong used to perform in the entertainment quarter of Beijing
known as Tianqiao. He always began with a ragged verse that started and ended
with the same word (something like a palindrome phrase). Then he imitated the
street hawkers' peculiar cries and sang some ancient songs. As the audience
grew, he started his proper xiangsheng item. His stage name originated from a
poem inscribed on a pair of bamboo clappers (a kind of percussion instrument)
that he had used. The words on the clapper were, "Eating by begging from many
houses and sleeping in ancient temples.
Never do anything against the law, and don't be afraid of seeing the emperor."
Zhu's four apprentices all had similar-styled stage names.
Zhu and his two contemporaries, A Yantao and Shen Chunhe, formed the three
earliest big categories of xiangsheng artists who passed on their skills to
their disciples. Now, after over a century's development, xiangsheng art has
ushered in its eighth generation of artists.
Since the late Qing Dynasty and the early years of the ROC, xiangsheng art
has made great advances in content and skills, and representative artists have
emerged in different periods.
For instance, in the late Qing period a group of artists whose names all
contained the character "de" arose, including Yu Delong, Jiao Dehai, Zhou
Deshan, and so on. People called them the Eight "Des" of Xiangsheng.
There were Li Dexi with the stage name of Wan Renmi and Zhang Shouchang (and
his style of art) during the ROC period. After the founding of the PRC, talented
Ji who was Hou's student, and Ma Ji's student Jiang
Kun all displayed highly distinctive skills and have become very famous
There are three forms of xiangsheng.
The earliest form was performed by one person, and was called Dankou
xiangsheng. Its contents were mostly jokes and humorous stories.
Later, Duikou xiangsheng or "cross talk," performed by two people, appeared.
One man was called Duogen, and the other, Penggen. When A is the primary talker
while B chimes in, this is called yitouchen (heavy-at-one-end), and the subject
of argument between them is called zimugen. Recitals and narration are called
guankouhuo, and imitations of opera songs and words are called huhuo.
The third form of xiangsheng performed by three or more people is called
Qunkou xiangsheng. It calls for one artist to say funny things, while others
chime in and yet another makes them stray from the subject. Of the three forms,
cross talk is the most popular and widespread.