Zhang Zhou Folk Ballads of Tan Tong Tong: A Case Study of Poh Lian Teng


1. Introduction of Tan Ci (Folk Ballads)
Nan Ci (Southern Ballads) is a kind of Tan Ci, while Tan Ci is a major category of the Chinese traditional musical art.

1.1 Categories of Chinese traditional music:
• Folk Song
• Folk Dance
• Qu Yi (Singing and Storytelling)
QQu Yi is a Chinese traditional singing and storytelling art.
• Opera
• Instrumental Music

1.2 The origin of Nan Ci


Dun Huang Bian Wen (Dun Huang Scripts-Tang Dynadsty)
Shuo Hua (Storytelling-Song Dynasty)
Ci Hua (Singing and storytelling-Yuan & Ming
Gu Ci (Storytelling with percussion)
Su Zhou Tan Ci – Zhang Zhou Tan Ci (Southern China)
Northern China; Qing Dynasty
Southern China; Qing Dynasty

2. Tan Tong Tong
2.1 Tan Tong Tong (? – 1983) is stage name; real name unknown.

2.2 Apprenticing in itinerant troupe in early years and playing minor roles on the stage.

After WWII, he was still seen performing on the stage for a short period of time. He left the troupe later and became an itinerant bard who played Yue Qin and sang out the fortune of his clients from the soothsaying sticks.

In the late 1950s, invited by Mr. Toh Chong Rang, the first director of the Chinese Division of Penang Redifution who appreciated his art, Tan Tong Tong began making recordings on Redifution. The one-hour program, which was entitled “Hokkien Miscellaneous Strains,” was run by Ms Lim Suek Ngor three times a week.

“Hokkien Miscellaneous Strains” also aired on the Redifution of Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur.

Later, Mr. Toh Teong Rang recommend Tan Tong Tong to Mr. Lim Yong Mo, the Director of the Chinese Division of Radio Malaya in Penang. Tan Tong Tong’s program on Radio Malaya was called “Tan Tong Tong Tan Ci (Folk Ballads).” This half-hour program was run by the late Ms Cheah Kheng Su once a week and aired to the northern areas of Malaya.

2.7 Recording with Redifution was terminated in 1967 due to personnel alteration of Redifution after a strike, while recording with the national radio (Radio Malaya, and later RTM) continued until his death. However, previous recordings were still aired on Redifution.

Between the late 1950s and 1967, Tan Tong Tong received remunerations from the two broadcasting companies and thus had a stable life.

2.9 Tan Tong Tong sang minor or miscellaneous strains during itinerancy. But on the radios, he sang and told long stories which were tinted with traditional values such as loyalty and filial piety.

2.10 Long stories sometimes were created in conjunction with the current movies, and sometimes they were even adaptations of the movies. However, the main plots were from the Hokkien folk opera.

3. Tan Tong Tong’s Poh Lian Teng
3.1 Poh Lian Teng, also called Cleaving the Mountain to Save the Holy Mother, is a love story between a god and a man. The plot:
The Holy Mother of Hua Shan (Mount Hua) is in love with the intellectual Liu Xi. Since this love has broken the heavenly law, her brother God Er Lang imprisons her under Mount Hua. The son of Holy Mother and Liu Xi, Chen Xiang, learns various skills from the immortals. When Chen Xi receives a holy axe, he knocks off God Er Lang with it and cleaves the mountain. Thus, the Holy Mother is released.

3.2 The actress Lin Dai’s posthumous film Poh Lian Teng was screened a year after her death. Tan Tong Tong might have adapted the story from this film in 1965.

3.3 Tan Tong Tong’s performance is improvisational. Playing Yue Qin, singing and telling stories were all by him.

4. Tan Tong Tong’s art of folk ballads as seen in Poh Lian Teng.

Toh Teong Chuan