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Chinese Quyi


Quyi is a general name for a variety of speaking and singing arts. It became a special art genre after undergoing a long period of development and evolution from oral literature and songs. The origin of Quyi goes way back in China's long history. In ancient times, both storytelling and comic performances containing elements of Quyi were widespread among common people, while the most talented artists performed songs, dances and comedy routines, accompanied by the music of stringed instruments, in the palaces of the rulers and the mansions of the nobility. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), stories old and new flowed from storytellers' lips. Then tales from Buddhist scriptures, which were very popular, were added and sung to the prevalent folk tunes. All this gave impetus to the development of the storytelling and singing arts. From then on, Quyi, as an independent art form, took shape.


By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the development of trade and the growth of cities and urban populations gave rise to the emergence of special venues for the performance of storytelling, and professional artists appeared on the scene. Various kinds of Quyi art forms began to flourish. From the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties to the early days of the Republic, the embryo of the capitalist economy and the increasing growth of cities greatly promoted advances in the arts of storytelling and singing and gradually formed today's Quyi art system.


Researches show that there are about 400 forms of Quyi, popular in different parts of China. Each has its own background, but they have original folk features, a broad mass basis and similar artistic characteristics. Their common features are as follows:


First, they take speaking and singing as their main artistic modes of expression. Therefore, their language must be lively, precise, simple and colloquial, suitable for speaking and singing, and easy to memorize and recite fluently. Second, unlike plays or operas, where the artists' costumes express fixed roles, a Quyi item usually needs only one or two performers, who may take several roles each. Quyi arts have the special feature of being simple and effortless to prepare for performances. Third, the convenient staging enables Quyi artists to reflect social life more directly than other forms of art. The contents of their repertories are generally short and elegant, and the artists usually compose, edit and design the items themselves. Fourth, as Quyi arts take speaking and singing as the major mediums, the artists have to stimulate the audience' aural sense with their words and songs so as to inspire them to conjure up images. Their artistic creations are completed with the participation of the audience's imaginations. Fifth, in order to give a beautiful artistic impression and create a sense of intimacy with the audience, the artists should have strong skills in speaking, acting and singing, and outstanding powers of imitation.


In a word, the artistic characteristics of the several hundred types of Quyi are quite similar in some respects, but in addition to their common features, each of them has its own special feature and exists independently. Also, each artist has his or her own special skill even to create his or her own school. Even if they belong to the same school, each will have his or her own specific style, which constantly injects vigor into the art of Quyi.



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