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Pingtan artists struggling to pass on the art form

Many Western art forms have flourished in China, as they were blended together with elements of Chinese culture. But many traditional art forms across the country are in danger of disappearing.

Pingtan, for example, which seamlessly integrates the art of storytelling and singing, is facing major challenges in retaining its appeal, as it becomes harder to attract the next generation of young performers who will carry on the mantle.

Li Huili is a Pingtan performer, an art form that is originated in Suzhou in East China’s Jiangsu province. But Li Huili is from Henan province in central China, a place Pingtan is absolutely alien to.

To become a Pingtan artist, Li first had to master the Suzhou dialect, which was like a foreign language to her. And it took three years to master the dialect along with singing and playing the music instrument, Pipa.

“As a Pingtan performer, the position is very stable and so is the pay, so I can stay and live in Shanghai,” Li said.

The Shanghai Pingtan Troupe discovered three years ago that it is hard to recruit actors from the region despite the high salary and benefits.

Li Huili has since fallen in love with Pingtan, but there are only a few pieces she knows well. She performs mainly for the elderly in community centers, and audiences are demanding.

Attempts to innovate have been made, but with little success.

“We haven’t made enough innovations, the changes we did make have not really had much impact,” Shanghai Pingtan Troupe’s deputy President Gao Bowen said. “It’s more restricted to the inner circle of artists.”

But old traditional art forms have made successful attempts at innovation. Shaoxing opera and Kunqu opera are two examples. Many experts believe drawing experiences from these two cousins could be a way forward for Pingtan.