Welcome to the
Shuoshu website
of Chinese Storytelling

This database is designed as a research tool for the investigation of Chinese storytelling. Chinese storytelling is a wide concept with more than 300 genres in living tradition. From the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279) historical sources testify not only to the existence, but also to the popularity of professional storytelling in China. In the ever-growing urbanizations, the story-teller had become an established figure of the marketplace and bazaar. This traditional art has developed and continued into the present, in forms based primarily on oral transmission. We find a large number of local varieties of story-telling all over China. The question is whether these arts will be able to live on into their second millennium, face to face with the modern media and the modern lifestyle?

In this twenty-first century, the generation of storytellers who was born and educated early in the previous century is now almost gone. The life conditions of the storytellers of the last century have fluctuated, as the society has gone through times of war and revolution. In the last decades they have to face the profound changes in peoples' habits and aitudes, when work and leisure and types of entertainment have changed radically. We cannot at present know if the storytellers' oral art will be able to survive the modern times, and how. We think it is high time that the international society takes responsibility to preserve this unique oral art. This site aims to contribute to the preservation of this priceless heritage

In spite of the humble social position of the storytellers, their art always had a heavy impact on the daily life of the Chinese townspeople, serving as the 'university' of ordinary people - the place where culture and knowledge was communicated in an entertaining and simple way. This oral genre played an astonishing part in the formation of the written genres of the novel and short story. Conversely, the historical and fictional genres that were transmitted in written form, influenced the oral genres deeply. The orality/literacy dichotomy, treated in its cultural-specific context, seems of major importance for an understanding of the structural specifics and conditions of existence of the oral arts. The storytelling genres have survived as orally transmitted traditions up to our present time and as such they offer a unique territory for research in oral tradition.

About this website

This site is the redesign of the website and database “Welcome to Chinese Storytelling” created by Vibeke Børdahl and Jens-Christian Sørensen, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, University of Copenhagen, 2000-2013, with funding from the Norwegian Research Council, the S.C. Van Foundation and other funding institutions. The Danish photographer Jette Ross (1936-2001), contributed her collection of photos of the Chinese storytellers which were taken 1996-2000 during fieldwork with Vibeke Børdahl. The texts of the original website as well as of the present redesigned version are written by Vibeke Børdahl,sometimes slightly revised to fit the new format. The present site has taken over the content, reorganised it, and above all it allows streaming access to all available recordings, in audio or video. This site was created by Rainier Lanselle and Philippe Pons, in collaboration with Vibeke Børdahl. The project had funding from the partners whose logos appear at the bottom of this page, mainly: the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, EPHE-PSL, the Centre de Recherches sur les Civilisations de l’Asie Orientale, CRCAO, and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique CNRS, Paris, France.

Main Projects

The website and database is designed as a research tool for the investigation of Chinese storytelling. Chinese storytelling is a wide concept with more than 300 genres in living tradition. Only a selection of these are currently represented in the database, and emphasis is on the oral performance culture of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province. Related oral arts and written genres such as Chinese drama and novel are also part of the research materials. The materials include:

  • oral performances of storytelling and drama on audio- and video-recordings
  • written documents with relevance to storytelling
  • photos and pictorial art with relevance to storytelling

This material is protected by copyright law. Without explicit authorization, reproduction is only allowed in so far as it is permitted by law or by agreement with a collecting society. Access to some recordings and documents is restricted and Login with username and password is necessary. (See below)

I. The Wu Song Project.

This project constitutes the main collection of the Research Database on Chinese Storytelling. It functions as a reservoir of materials for the book Wu Song Fights the Tiger. The Interaction of Oral and Written Traditions in the Chinese Novel, Drama and Storytelling by Vibeke Børdahl, NIAS Press, Copenhagen 2013.

Textual, auditory and visual versions of the sources for this study are here available in a number of different formats in order to facilitate future studies. The core materials of the tale of “Wu Song Fights the Tiger” are analyzed into a number of categories, uncovering linguistic and narrative differences between the various versions. A set of textual features are demonstrated through entries that are special to this collection.

The illustrations and photos for the Wu Song project are, unless a special source is given, prepared by the late Jette Ross. Sources for the illustrations are given in Børdahl & Ross: Chinese Storytellers - Life and Art in the Yangzhou Tradition , Cheng & Tsui, Boston 2002. © Vibeke Børdahl 2001

II. The Four Masters’ Project.

This project contains video recordings and catalogue for the ‘Large-scale Registration of Chinese Storytelling’, also called Four Masters of Chinese Storytelling. Dai Buzhang 戴步章, Fei Zhengliang 費正良, Gao Zaihua 高再華 and Ren Jitang 任繼堂,  Four masters of Yangzhou pinghua – had their full repertoires video recorded in Yangzhou in 2001-2003, amounting to 360 hours of recordings. This is the first time storytellers’ repertoires are recorded and provided in day-to-day performances, based solely on the storytellers’ own habits of progression and division (not shortened, rearranged or otherwise manipulated for extraneous purposes).

A bilingual volume (English and Chinese) serves as a guide and catalogue to these collections: Vibeke Børdahl, Fei Li 費力, and Huang Ying 黃瑛, eds. Four Masters of Chinese Storytelling: Full-Length Repertoires of Yangzhou Storytelling on Video. Copenhagen: NIAS Press. 2004. The catalogue entries of the database are authored by the storytellers in Chinese and translated into English.

The entire collection recordings is available on this website. Dai Buzhang’s, Fei Zhengliang’s, and Ren Jitang’s are in open-access. Gao Zaihua’s recordings are accessible to registered users only. To be registered, please contact Rainier Lanselle. Contact the same for any use of the video sources. No use or rebroadcast of video sources without permission.

Four sets of the 360 recordings’ VCDs are deposited in the research libraries of Library of Congress, Washington D.C., Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, Academia Sinica, Taipei (Fu Ssu-nien Library) and Danish Folklore Archives, Copenhagen.


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