With the death of its most influential master, what does the future hold for the thousand-year art of “book commentary?”

“To be continued in the next chapter,” was pingshu master Shan Tianfang’s (单田芳) signature sign-off, the rasping conclusion to more than 12,000 radio episodes “book commentaries” recorded over a 60-year career.

September 11 saw the final chapter in the life of a storyteller whose idiosyncratic renditions of classic Chinese texts made him a national treasure, as Shan died aged 83. Four days later, his iconic catchphrase was repeated over headphones worn by thousands of loyal fans who attended Shan’s memorial at Beijing’s Babaoshan Cemetery, many worried who would turn the next page of this declining traditional art.

“My father’s only regret was that he was unable to finish recording a few epics before his death,” wrote Shan’s daughter, Shan Huili, in an open letter published after his death. “This regret embodied my father’s anxiety over the inheritance and development of the pingshu (评书, book commentary) art over the years.”

This is subscriber exclusive content

Become a subscriber to continue reading

To Be Continued is a story from our issue, “Curiosities and Quests.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Tan Yunfei (谭云飞)

Tan Yunfei is the editorial director of The World of Chinese. She reports on Chinese language, food, traditions, and society. Having grown up in a rural community and mainly lived in the cities since college, she tries to explore and better understand China's evolving rural and urban life with all readers.

author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

Related Articles