THE Qibao Teahouse in Minhang, built during the Five Dynasties Period (907-979 AD), is the oldest operating teahouse in Shanghai , and not without good reason.
The popular gathering place in Qibao Old Town serves up more than just brewed beverages. It also hosts daily pingtan performances of storytelling and ballad singing in the Suzhou dialect.
The old-style ambience especially appeals to older residents fond of the traditional art form. Patrons pay 2 yuan (32 US cents) for a bench seat at one of the square tables and another 2 yuan for a pot of tea.
For frequent customers, the teahouse has become part of their daily lifestyle. Here they can chat with friends and catch up on local gossip as they sip tea and enjoy on-stage performances that feature the dulcet sounds of the rebec, a type of fiddle, and other traditional instruments.
Pingtan originated in Suzhou about 400 years ago. It is rooted in the ancient tradition of storytelling. Suzhou pingtan reached its peak during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1739-1796) in the Qing Dynasty. It is usually performed solo or in duets and trio, involving singing and storytelling.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the government set up the Research Office of Suzhou Pingtan, the Suzhou Pingtan School, and other institutions to protect and carry forward this traditional art form.