The Narrative Arts of Tiānjīn: Between Music and Language by Francesca R. Sborgi Lawson (review)
- CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 32, Number 1, July 2013
- pp. 91-99
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BOOK REVIEWS The Narrative Arts of Ti anj õn: Between Music and Language. By Francesca R. Sborgi Lawson. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2011. xiii z 198 pp., CD. 12 illus. Cloth $99.95. Francesca Lawson's The Narrative Arts of Ti anj õn: Between Music and Language is a welcome addition to a growing body of English language work on Chinese oral performance traditions. Grounded in ®rsthand ®eldwork conducted primarily in the 1980s, Lawson's monograph presents performances of four genres that were popular in the Tianjin area during the period of her ®eldwork. An audio CD, appendices that include Chinese transcriptions and musical scores for selected performances, and a glossary of Chinese characters compliment the main text, which is divided into eleven brief chapters. The strengths of Lawson's work include its use of ®eldwork that involves interviews with performers and ®rsthand participant observation and her detailed analysis of the musical aspects of the genres she discusses. Lawson's work is also a needed addition to the growing body of work that analyzes Chinese regional cultures. The primary weaknesses are that although she states that the ``focal point of her research'' is performance, the book is not informed by performance theory, and her presentation of Tianjin local traditions is not suf®ciently contextualized historically, and is not informed by comparisons to similar performance traditions elsewhere in China. The 179-page main body of the book is divided into three parts: Background, Performances, and Appendices. Part One begins with an extremely brief three-page introduction in which we are told about the ®eldwork context, the four genres the author has chosen to discuss (Tianjin popular tunes [Tianjin shidiao )%B¿], Beijing drum songs [Jingyun dagu ¬û'], Tianjin fast clappertales [Tianjin kuaibar shu )%ëRø], and comic routines [Xiangsheng ør]). Although we learn that the ®eldwork consisted of a one-year period in the years 1985 to 1986, a one-week period in 1987, and a one-month period in 1991, it would have been useful for comparative purposes if more detail had been given with regards to the®eldwork context and process itself. Such a detailed account of the ®eldwork process may have also made the work more attractive to broader non-China specialist audiences in anthropology and folklore. The lack of an explanation for the several decade-long lapse between the initial ®eldwork and publication, or any attempt to address the signi®cant changes that have occurred since that time in Tianjin and in the Tianjin narrative arts scene, starts the reader off with several questions that are never answered (one of these questions is answered in an online posting from which we learn that Lawson put this book project on hold in order to devote more time to the raising of her sons).1 1 http://mormonscholarstestify.org/2090/francesca-r-sborgi-lawson, accessed March 30, 2013. CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature 32.1 (July 2013): 91±99 # The Permanent Conference on Chinese Oral and Performing Literature, Inc. 2013 DOI: 10.1179/0193777413Z.0000000004 In the ``Introduction,'' we learn that the author views the book as an``exploration into the ways in which the manner of performance in¯uences and is in¯uenced by the kinds of information that may be communicated during the course of performance'' (p. 4, emphasis in original). She says that her intention is to ``focus on performative information that goes beyond the level of detail found in most printed anthologies'' (p. 4) and provide ``descriptions of particular performances that attempt to reveal some of the richness of linguistic and musical communication possible within narrative performance that is not transcribed or notated, and therefore not immediately apparent to the non-native'' (p. 5). Having read that description, Richard Bauman's work on performance theory immediately comes to mind. Given that Lawson is attempting to deal with the performance of oral narrative traditions, the work of John Miles Foley would also seem to be a natural guidepost for her exploration. In addition, given that she is speci®cally analyzing Chinese oral performance traditions, a mention of Mark Bender, who has applied Bauman's performance theory to Kunming storytelling, Suzhou chantefables, and various Chinese minority...