Masters and Disciples (11)
The Wang school of Water Margin Wangpai Shuihu takes its name from the most famous storyteller in China in this century, Wang Shaotang (1889-1968) and his descendants. His art was considered equal to that of the world-famous opera actor Mei Lanfang. The saying was:
In opera, you have to hear Mei Lanfang
In storytelling, you have to hear Wang Shaotang
The history of the Wang school goes back four generations as a family tradition and its repertoire consists mainly of four ten-chapter cycles telling the adventures of four famous heroes among the outlaws in Shandong during the twelth century, Wu Song, Song Jiang, Shi Xiu and Lu Junyi.
In their youth Wang Shaotang’s father and uncle changed profession from small moneylenders to storytellers. The two brothers studied with masters from the two lines of Water Margin, one of them belonging to the Deng school, the other to the Song school. Wang Shaotang’s father, Wang Yutang, combined elements from both schools in his repertoire, and Wang Shaotang further developed this trend and also learned much from other contemporary great masters. He was a highly creative artist. Through studies as well as personal life experience he managed to elaborate and expand his performances to about double length of his elders.
Wang Shaotang was extremely careful and strict in his education of heirs. Since he had no son of his own, he accepted and adopted his brother’s son Wang Xiaotang (1918-2000) as his son and disciple. Later Wang Xiaotang’s daughter Wang Litang (1942-) was also educated in the family tradition, both by her father and grandfather. There were also storytellers from other schools, who wanted to learn from him and took a personal initiative in this direction, such as his colleague Ma Fengzhang (1899-1965) and the young artist Li Xintang (1935-), who also studied with Wang Xiaotang. In 1960-61 the government arranged for a group of young aspiring storytellers to have classes with the old master, Ren Jitang (1942-), Hui Zhaolong (1945-) (also a student of Ma Fengzhang 1899-1965) and his last student (guanmen dizi), Chen Yintang (1951-). They studied irregularly under his guidance for a couple of years and some of them continued as students of Wang Xiaotang and Wang Litang. They are now themselves teachers to a new generation of young storytellers: Ma Wei (b.1980) has studied with Ren Jitang and Hui Zhaolong and is the youngest member of the Wang School. Extracts of performances from members of the Wang School are found under Sagas of storytelling.Wang Xiaotang beginning video (wmv 2.055Kb)
Next: Three Kingdoms in Yangzhou Storytelling