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Obituary: Shan Tianfang, China's beloved storyteller

China is fondly remembering one of its most famous radio voices, a man whose vivid storytelling was a comfort to millions of people, from commuters stuck in traffic to restless teens struggling to sleep.

Shan Chuanzhong, better known by his stage name Shan Tianfang, was a leading exponent of the traditional Chinese performance art form pingshu, which translates as "storytelling".

He has died aged 84 following a long illness.Pingshu, also known as "shoushu" and "pinghua", dates from the Song Dynasty (AD960-1279), when performers would entertain villagers by telling stories in a particularly emotive style.

It remains particularly popular in north-eastern China. Performers wear traditional dress and use very basic props - often a folded fan and a gavel. The fan is used to indicate a character's physical movements, like drawing a sword, or hitting something. The gavel is pounded for dramatic effect to indicate a moment of high drama.

Pingshu is sometimes performed in tea houses and small theatres, but many Chinese associate the art form with radio. And in a country where sleeping problems are commonplace, pingshu is still popular as a way of helping people to wind down at bedtime.

Shan's daughter Shan Huili thanked fans for their tributes soon after his death on 11 September, saying: "Although he has passed away, his voice will always accompany everyone, and his works will last forever."

Shan Tianfang was born in 1934 in Yingkou, in north-eastern Liaoning province. His family introduced him to folk arts from a young age and he began learning pingshu when he was 19.

He became known in Liaoning for his work on stage and in local teahouses during the 1950s and 1960s, and performed in an art troupe around the region.

But because of its associations with imperial China, pingshu was deemed taboo during Mao's Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, meaning that Shan, along with other pingshu performers like Yuan Kuocheng, was forced to stop work.

Shan was persecuted for his mastery of pingshu, which was seen as a hangover from a feudal era. He was detained for "reformation training" in 1968 and was released in 1970.

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