In­ter­net pod­cast brings new life to an­cient Ti­betan epic

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET - By XIN­HUA

Long the purview of singers and sto­ry­tellers, The Epic of King Ge­sar is now be­ing in­tro­duced to new au­di­ences via a newrealm: the In­ter­net.

Han sto­ry­teller Zhang Zhun worked with Ti­betol­o­gist Gyan­pian Gyamco to pro­duce a 40-episode pod­cast in Man­darin based on the vast oral nar­ra­tive about the war­rior with bound­less su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers.

The episodes are per­formed in the ping­shu style, which fea­tures lit­er­ary and per­for­mance devices, such as the use of a poem or rhyme to be­gin each story, the strik­ing of a gavel to gain the au­di­ence’s at­ten­tion and the use of sus­pense, by way of a cliffhanger, to end each chap­ter.

Since King Ge­sar first aired in mid-De­cem­ber on Litchi FM, a pod­cast plat­form, the first 10 episodes have been down­loaded more than 40,000 times.

The Ge­sar leg­end has been traced back as far as the 12th cen­tury, and the inherent flex­i­bil­ity of oral sto­ry­telling has led to a vast num­ber of nar­ra­tives. Re­cur­ring, pop­u­lar mo­tifs find Ge­sar sent by the gods to van­quish mon­sters, end wars and unify the tribes in Ling, a king­dom on the Ti­betan plateau.

Zhang’s ping­shu ver­sion is part of the non­profit pro­gram Ears for Epics, which aims to pre­serve and pro­mote tra­di­tional sto­ry­telling. Ears for Epics is the brain­child of the Read­ing China Sa­lon at the Chi­nese Cul­ture Trans­la­tions and Stud­ies Sup­port, the Bei­jing Dongcheng District Li­brary and Litchi.

Per­form­ing the epic in ping­shu will not only help Man­darin speak­ers un­der­stand the Ti­betan story, but it could also help to pop­u­lar­ize ping­shu. The 1,000-year-old ping­shu style wit­nessed a re­vival in the 1970s and ’80s, when ra­dios be­came widely avail­able. Its pop­u­lar­ity waned, how­ever, with the ad­vent of new en­ter­tain­ment the 1990s.

Zhang is no stranger to re-imag­in­ing works in the ping­shu style, hav­ing won ac­claim for an adap­ta­tion of the Ja­panese car­toon se­ries One Piece, which he pro­duced two years ago.

Adapt­ing KingGe­sar was no easy task, Zhang said, and the big­gest chal­lenge was the dif­fer­ent cul­tural un­der­stand­ing of lit­er­ary tropes.

For ex­am­ple, while no Ti­betan has ever ques­tioned how Ge­sar’s half brother, the un­beat­able Chatsa, could be killed by a sin­gle ar­row, many of Zhang’s Han lis­ten­ers would not have ac­cepted such a plot de­vice.

“How­can an in­vin­ci­ble hero die such a hu­mil­i­at­ing death?” Zhang asked.

As many of his tar­get au­di­ence would ob­ject to such an easy mur­der, this had to be changed for the new adap­ta­tion, which is based on a short­ened Chi­nese ver­sion of the epic com­piled by Gyan­pian Gyamco. Al­though the Ti­betan scholar was open to changes to the nar­ra­tive to make it “lis­tener friendly”, he in­sisted on the re­ten­tion of the story’s essence.

So a new sce­nario for Chatsa’s death was cre­ated that would be ac­cepted by the lis­tener, as well as Zhang and Gyan­pian Gyamco.

Zhang had not heard of the Ge­sar epic tra­di­tion be­fore he be­gan the pro­ject and is aware that his adap­ta­tion strays from the orig­i­nal nar­ra­tive. That said, Gyan­pian Gyamco en­dorsed Zhang’s ver­sion.

“It is dif­fi­cult to tell a Ti­betan story to those who have no un­der­stand­ing of our cul­ture. The lis­ten­ers of this story are not Ti­betans, and this was Zhang’s great­est chal­lenge. I think he has done re­ally well to find the right bal­ance,” Gyan­pian Gyamco said.

That goes to the heart of what Zhang set out to do. His adap­ta­tion “was made to in­spire non-Ti­betan speak­ers to lis­ten to this clas­sic epic”, he said. “That's what I want.”

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