Pingtan 評彈 is a performance genre usually featuring two performers (though sometimes one or three) who sing and accompany themselves on stringed instruments, often a pipa 琵琶 or san xian 三弦. It is a form which arose in the lower Yangzi cities of Suzhou and Shanghai, and is normally performed in the Wu dialect 吳語. If it is a form you are not familiar with, I urge you to listen to some of the performances on this page.
Some of the pingtan are based on old stories (like Dream of the Red Chamber); others are based on more contemporary stories. One of the most beloved pingtan performances is entitled “Baoyu yetan“ 寶玉夜探. Three different performances of this pingtan are included here. The first is a soundfile of a performance by the master Jiang Yuequan 蒋月泉 (1917-2001) in 1955. The image to the left is of Jiang. The the text of the song and an English translation are in a text box at the bottom of the page.
The video below is another performance of the same pingtan 評彈, featuring Zhou Hong 周红 and Cai Xiaohua 蔡小华 .
The next two videos are from a television show called “The World of Pingtan” (评弹天地). These two shows are devoted entirely to pingtan which tell stories from Dream of the Red Chamber. The first song on the second video is also “Baoyu yetan.”
TEXT AND TRANSLATION FOR BAOYU YETAN
Cold dews freeze into ice,
The moon is hazy in the dim night,
Northern winds are bone-chilling,
The Prospect Garden is pitch-dark and desolate.
Jia Baoyu strolls along the flower path.
His steps are light and gentle.
He is alone with a lantern in hand.
The flickering dark shadows make him even sadder.
All alone he goes to the Naiad’s house
to see if his cousin Lin has recovered.
He taps on the copper door knocker.
The maid Nightingale quickly opens the door
and says “Oh, young master, it’s late and it’s cold—please take care.”
Baoyu says “Nightingale, I’m worried about cousin Lin
so I made a special trip to inquire after her.”
As they are talking they come to Daiyu’s bedside
She is too weak to speak
He calls softly “Cousin…
She acknowledges his presence,
and opens her almond eyes, full of tears.
She says “Baoyu
I think I will not recover from this illness.
Please don’t care much for me, an ill-fated person.”
Baoyu says “Cousin Lin.
You have had so many troubles all your life.
Why are you so hard on yourself?
Please tell all your worries to me
The two of us share one heart.
I advise you to eat three times a day.
I advise you to wear warm clothing in cold weather.
I advise you to take care of your body first, and then take care of your spirit.
there is no earthly reason to trouble yourself
I advise you not to listen to the words of our cousins,
which are sometimes true and sometimes false.
I advise you to go to bed early and not stay up late at night,
which is not proper for an invalid in your condition.
I advise you forget all cares.
Moreover,forget about your hometown in Yangzhou.”
Daiyu nods at Baoyu’s words.
and says, “Cousin, I will hold your words in my heart.”
Text and translation slightly modified from that available on YouTube.
Suggestions for Further Reading: HE Qiliang, “Between Accommodation and Resistance.”