When Guo Degang performs in a teahouse near Tian'anmen Square,
tickets always sell out fast.
"I'd rather stand or even get pinned against the wall, if I am
admitted into the teahouse," said a ticketless fan.
Thirty-three-year-old Guo is not a pop or movie star but a
performer of "Xiangshen", or crosstalk, a traditional form of
Chinese humor that is believed to have declined in quality over the
"The traditional art of crosstalk is making a comeback after a
two-decade eclipse, and Guo is the man to revive it," said art
critic Zhang Yiwu.
"All I'm doing is bringing crosstalk back to its original place
-- the teahouse," said Guo. For ten years since 1996, the
Tianjin-born young man has been delivering his comic dialogues in
teahouses in Beijing and his efforts have finally paid off.
Guo has become one of the most popular crosstalkers in Beijing,
and both the capital's young and old are attending his
performances. Since last November, stories about him have
repeatedly hit newspaper headlines, and his crosstalk pieces are
lavishly played on TV and radio, or made into audio files for
people to download on the Net.
On the January 12 show, he came back onstage for 22 encores,
adding three hours to performance, which was originally scheduled
for two hours.
Thanks to Guo's performances, the traditional art form has begun
to attract the audience's attention again, winning it new fans. One
survey said many of Guo's fans are born in the 1970's or 1980's and
80 percent have received a university education.
In Guo's opinion, the dominance of televised crosstalk
diminished its charm over the years, but teahouse performances have
"Traditionally a crosstalk piece lasts 40 or 50 minutes, but on
TV it is drastically truncated for time reasons, sometimes even to
three-and-a-half minutes. This may do once or twice, but the art
form won't thrive in the long-term by relying solely on TV." Guo
"Instead, in a teahouse you face a live audience and you can
improvise according to the needs of a specific audience, which is
closer to the face-to-face essence of the art form."
Thus, the young man would rather jokingly be referred to as the
"less-known crosstalk performer", in contrast to those "well-known"
crosstalk stars who gain more fame with each television
The teahouse approach is not the only reason for his popularity.
"He is a man who perfectly mingles traditional crosstalk with
modern life features," commented playwright Huang Jisu.
Guo started learning crosstalk when he was eight, and became
well-versed in a repertoire of hundreds of traditional crosstalk
"Almost all the jokes can be found in traditional crosstalk
pieces which date back more than a century," Guo said. "All
innovations should be based on a good grasp of the tradition."
Guo is noted for his ability to add modern life material to
traditional pieces and the subject matter of his crosstalk draws
upon every aspect of daily life, from the No.300 bus to noodles
with soybean paste.
"His crosstalk is more rooted in daily life than mine is," said
Jiang Kun, a famous crosstalk performer. "For instance, I don't
know what "300" means, because I drive."
In response to all the praise, Guo said: "I don't intend to
revive the art form single-handedly. Giving it a little push
forward is enough."
(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2006)