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During China's Ming–Qing era, professional storytelling genres developed in economically and culturally advanced regions, alongside a mature book culture and major developments of theater genres. Since the eighteenth century, two Suzhou dialect-based storytelling genres emerged in the city of Suzhou and its neighboring area: tanci 彈詞 (plucking rhymes, chantefable) and pinghua 評話 (straight storytelling). Unlike pinghua's connection to time, that is, the history of different dynasties, the most popular tanci stories excel in presenting space: characters from many different tanci stories traverse a narrative universe that is based on spatial–temporal imagination of a constructed Jiangnan during the "Ming" Dynasty, often with Suzhou at its center. Therefore, tanci differs from many other performative genres and functions as a highly localized practice of collective memory: as an oral performative art, Suzhou tanci negotiates with both official history and plebian lore and legends; as a daily communal activity, it invites local audiences to practice imaginative reconstruction of Suzhou's past by embracing plots and characters in specific places that have specific spatial structures. Therefore, the charm of tanci lies not in the development of new stories but in resituating old local stories in the everchanging modern city to maintain a stable group identity for the locals.

This study focuses on six tanci stories and their manifestations around the city of Suzhou. It integrates narratology, reception history, and cultural studies to explore the narrative, the performative, and the lived spaces of and around tanci, exploring the unique role of tanci in the shaping of local collective memory and identity.


CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature






East Asian Studies