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A comedic genre's serious revival

By He Qi in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-14 07:10
Performances of huajixi are attracting a growing number of viewers. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Traditional Shanghainese comedy isn't joking about making a comeback.

A growing number of families are booking huajixi shows for gatherings, Shanghai Dujiaoxi Heritage Center head Wang Rugang says.

"It's popular during festivals, especially Spring Festival," Wang says.

It's a good way for people from outside of Shanghai to learn the dialect and understand the city's culture, Wang adds.

Huajixi evolved from dujiaoxi, a talk-show genre of humor, in the early 1900s and was listed as a form of national intangible cultural heritage in 2011. Its jokes and motifs hail from ordinary people's daily lives.

One of the best-known shows is A House with 72 Tenants created by the Shanghai People's Huajixi Company in 1958. It revolves around tenants' relationships in a crowded apartment building.

In the 1980s, the genre was so popular in Shanghai that there was a saying: "You can trade an apartment for huajixi tickets."

But it has declined in recent decades. Fewer Shanghai residents speak the local dialect, and youth seek entertainment elsewhere.

"I haven't watched huajixi for a long time because its content is too old," says Chen Yanhua, a 64-year-old local resident. "I used to watch many of the classic shows many times and could even recite the dialogues."

Huajixi needs to evolve beyond the theater as new media emerge, Chen says. But he adds it must balance new content with tradition.

Wang says: "We lack talent, especially experienced scriptwriters, directors and actors. Huajixi isn't glamorous. And the pay isn't high. Policies aside, people are more aware about protecting traditional culture."

This gives him confidence, he says.

Over 300 performances were staged last year, Wang says.

"I'm optimistic about huajixi and other forms of comedy. Laughter is universal. People all over the world enjoy comedy."

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