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Today I read a blog post talking about a Canadian guy called Mark Rowswell (aka 大山) that appears on Chinese TV shows and who is able to do 相声. This 相声 is referred to as "the art of language".

What does 相声 exactly mean?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

相声 is a form of Chinese traditional stand-up comedy where two two performers talk back and forth to each other, telling a funny story or just chatting about a humorous topic. Because it's a traditional Chinese art form and originates in northern China, it has a higher political status than other Chinese art forms. This means that it gets broadcasted across the country on CCTV a lot, and sinophiles like Mark Roswell get introduced to it when they are studying Chinese.

相声 performers who become make a name for themselves can establish their own styles and take on students to pass on their skills. Mr Roswell/Dashan's mentor was a performer named 姜昆. Dashan is not the only foreigner to have studied under a famous artist -- another name that I remember off the top of my head is Julien Gaudfroy (朱力安), a French student of Chinese who also studied 相声.

Probably the best way to get a better feel for 相声 would be to search for the term on Youtube, or if you're in China then search on Youku. Combine it with 大山 or 朱力安 to find videos of these talented performers.

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Dashan has said himself it is kind of like Abbott and Costello's 'whose on first' –  xiaohouzi79 Jan 10 '12 at 9:18
Just today Dashan wrote a great answer to this very question, but on Quora; see the top answer here: quora.com/What-is-xiangsheng-and-what-makes-it-funny –  msittig Jan 11 '12 at 8:03
Hopefully one day this site will be good enough for him to come and answer here! ;) –  xiaohouzi79 Jan 11 '12 at 9:13

Kind of hard to explain ...

It a traditional performing arts in China, usually performed by two performers, in the form of dialogue between the two performers.

It is a comedic performing art that would make people laugh.

This is a short wiki article about it.

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It's Chinese traditional talk show. Usually played by two persons. But there is 单口相声 which played by one person.

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To forestall any potential confusion: I have heard many Chinese people refer to 相声 as 脱口秀 ("talk show"), but 相声 certainly doesn't match the vision most English speakers have of what talk show means. I'd consider 脱口秀 and talk show to be "false friends" in this case. –  Jon Jan 10 '12 at 13:24

"相声" literally means "mutual voice."

Figuratively, it would refer to a "back and forth" dialog between two people, kind of like a ping pong game. Because no one is clearly dominant, it is a use of language that would be considered a high art form.

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