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A Magical Painting
read in Chinese by Yang Delong

The Magical Painting is part of a story that is often performed by Chinese comedic story tellers. Story telling is a treasured art form in China. It ranges from poetic works to homily. The story teller has only voice to convey the setting, the excitement, and the meaning of the story. The voice moves from highs to lows, soft to loud, twists and turns, breaks and soothes as it massages the development of the image in the listener's mind. Story tellers may work alone, but often work in pairs in a specialized form called crosstalk 相声 (xiang4sheng). Hou Baolin 侯宝林 (Hóu Bǎolín, 1917 -1993) is one of the most famous performers of crosstalk. He worked with Guo Qiru 郭启儒 (Guō Qǐrú, 1900 - 1969) for over 20 years. Together, they modernized and revitalized the art form. Hou Baolin wrote extensively, creating new stories and dialogues that became instant standards. Their work can be viewed on YouTube, as can that of many other performers such as: Liu Baorui 刘宝瑞 (Liú Bǎoruì, 1915 - 1968), Ma Sanli 马三立 (Mǎ Sānlì, 1914 - 2003), Feng Gong 冯巩 (Féng Gǒng, 1957 -), Jiang Kun 姜昆 (Jiāng Kūn, 1950 -), and Hou Yaowen 侯耀文 (Hóu Yàowén, 1948 - 2007). Hou Yaowen was the son of Hou Baolin. Many crosstalk performers were raised in Tianjin, thus the northern accent has become associated with crosstalk. Crosstalk performers study traditional opera, taiji, singing, and dance to gain full control of both their voice and gestures. Timing is everything in comedy. The rich variation of the northern accent, ranging from guttural, to soft whispers and then to high pitched exclamations is entertaining, even it you don't know Chinese. There is a cadence to the stories that is akin to rap, but rap with a melody.

The present story was originally written and performed by Liu Baorui 刘宝瑞, one of the most famous of the single performers of crosstalk. He was born in Beijing in 1915, but when he began to develop his comedy he moved to Tianjin to study with such greats as Ma Sanli 马三立 and Zhao Peiru 赵佩茹. The spread of radio during the 1930s and 1940s contributed to the development and spread of the art form. Soon Liu Baorui was giving performances in Shanghai and Nanjing, and became popular all over China. He traveled to Hong Kong and popularized the art form in Hong Kong and Macao. After the revolution, he worked in Beijing, performing on the radio. During the Cultural Revolution he was sent to the Fangshan labor farm where he died in 1968. According to the information on Baidu, he was "Persecuted to death during the Cultural Revolution." There are two links at the bottom of the page to audio performances given by Liu Baorui.

Yang Delong is on the faculty of Hangzhou Normal University, in, guess what, Hangzhou. He teaches English, travels extensively, and likes to sing. He and his wife, Li Jia, spend most of their time enjoying their lovely daughter Yang Xinzhi. An Yufei, who translated the story into Chinese, is from Beijing University of Technology and is presently a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon.

To get around, the top row of numbers control the story, the bottom row of numbers allow you to page through the vocabulary. Once you have mastered the vocabulary, you can listen to the complete story by clicking section 11 in the top row.

The story itself was told to me by a friend in Beijing. I wrote it later in English and it was translated into Chinese by An Yufei and edited by Feng Xie. It is quite a bit shorter than the original, and may have only a faint resemblance. I have not heard the original story, but am told that it continues with more twists. In this age of new money in China, it is a very popular spoof on the conspicuous consumption of the rich who have more money than brains.

Hou Baolin 侯宝林 (Hóu Bǎolín, 1917 -1993)

Video of Hou Baolin and Guo Qiru

Video of Hou Baolin and a new partner

Audio One of Liu Baorui 刘宝瑞

Audio Two of Liu Baorui 刘宝瑞

Ting - Chinese English Study Center >> Games and Stories >> A Magical Painting


Last update: July 2012

(c) Marilyn Shea, 2012