Traditional art rhymes with its time
Dressed in traditional clothing and using very basic props – bamboo clappers, a kind of traditional Chinese percussion instrument made up of wooden panels or planks which, as the name suggests, are struck against each other, Liu Jiming and Wan Yifu have been making and sharing short videos of the art form on social media platforms since 2019.
With a history dating back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the art form, kuaiban, can be practiced in a group or solo. With one or two pairs of different sized bamboo clappers in hand, performers speak in the local dialect while telling stories, which are usually folk tales and social issues.
As storytellers, Liu and Wan create original stories and deliver their rhyming verses to the rhythm of bamboo clappers. Their subjects usually revolve around the local culture of Tianjin, their home, such as the city’s history, iconic landmarks, and food. They also discuss current news.
They recently posted three short videos using kuaiban, commenting on a dispute over the Chinese men’s soccer team, which has gone viral on Chinese social media platforms. On Douyin, a popular Chinese short-video platform, these videos have been viewed around 4 million times and the duo have gained over 1 million subscribers on the platform.
The dispute erupted on March 14 when comedian Gong Hanlin spoke about the national football team’s overpaid and disappointing performances. Then, a short video of famous Chinese comedian Feng Gong joking about the team was posted online, which made the argument even more intense.
“Leaving aside the dispute over the Chinese men’s soccer team, we didn’t expect kuaiban to attract so many viewers as it is often seen as old-fashioned and appealing to older people,” said Liu, 39.
“I’m not a football fan, unlike Wan, who has been watching games since he was a kid. It’s natural to create these football videos. The material is there and we have something to say,” says Liu.