Strategic observation

Across China: Death of master invokes love for a traditional Chinese art

2018-09-12 20:35:41 (Beijing Time)         English.news.cn

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BEIJING, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- He is known as the master of Pingshu.

Before the advent of the internet, Shan Tianfang was an undisputable star in China's entertainment industry.

Many Chinese would clutch their radios or have their eyes fixed on their TV sets waiting for the familiar deep and raspy voice of Shan as his daily Pingshu storytelling went on air.

But now that voice is gone forever.

Shan died in a hospital in Beijing Tuesday at the age of 84.

Grief poured in, most noticeably on social media, as Chinese mourned the death of Shan and reignited the flame for the art Shan spent his life mastering.

"I'm so sad. Shan's Pingshu performances formed my most cherished childhood memories," read a comment on Sina Weibo. "I remembered rushing home from school at noon every day just to listen to his stories."

The millennium-old Pingshu was a very popular form of storytelling monologue in northern China. The stories are typically Chinese literary classics such as "The Three Kingdoms" and "Heroes in Sui and Tang Dynasties."

"I learned most of my knowledge about Chinese historical fictions from Shan's Pingshu," said another Sina Weibo user. "It is Shan who introduced me to the world of martial arts fantasy."

Born into a family of folk artists in the 1930s, Shan was groomed in traditional Chinese art at a young age. He learned Pingshu at 19, and from then on, he built up his stellar career in the art form.

For more than 60 years, Shan recorded more than 12,000 episodes of Pingshu stories, gaining him a loyal audience of more than 600 million.

"Shan was a master in using suspense, poems or rhymes to begin each story, and leaving listeners with a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter," said another netizen.

But like many other traditional arts, Pingshu has struggled to retain a large fan base as entertainment proliferates in the internet age.

Few young people would spend an hour a day to quietly listen to storytelling monologues, instead, they prefer watching movies and TV shows or live streaming sites.

Before Shan passed away, he also worried about Pingshu's fading influence. But Pingshu is still alive among fans.

On Ximalaya FM, a popular audiobook platform in China, Shan's Pingshu about Zhang Zuolin, the warlord of northeast China from the 1911 Revolution and his son Zhang Xueliang, a former general of the Kuomintang party, has drawn 470 million hits.

Young Pingshu fans keep producing new Pingshu episodes by adapting well-known novels such as the Chinese adventure series "The Tibet Code," "Harry Potter" and the Japanese manga "One Piece."

Pingshu is still a top choice to pass the time for commuters who drive and the elderly who usually carry portable radios with them as they stroll around parks.

"The other day I called a taxi, and the driver was playing Shan's Pingshu of 'Heroes in Sui and Tang Dynasties.' It conjured up my best memories of listening to Shan's stories with my grandpa while sipping juice in bed," said another Sina Weibo user.

This is one of more than 6,000 comments below Shan's last post on his Weibo account, where he was promoting his daughter Shan Huili's free open course for Pingshu.