Obituary: Shan Tianfang
Shan Tianfang, China's favourite storyteller died on September 11th, aged 84
What struck Shan Tianfang most, as he walked into the studio for his first radio broadcast at the end of the 1970s, was the lack of things.
No brightly painted screen to set the scene for his pingshu, or storytelling.
No block of wood on the table, to make the audience pay attention or to scare them stiff.
No folded fan to snap open for a surprise, simper behind, or whip through the air as a sword.
A traditional storyteller needed only those three props.
Still, he could manage.
With the side of his left hand, he could bang emphatically.
And with his voice alone he could evoke the creaking wingbeats of a flying bird, the pealing, descending glugs of a man taking poison
or the power of an adversary, "the corners of his eyes and brows showing a thousand streams of killing aura".
The thing he missed most was an audience.
He was used to the teeming tea houses of north-east China, packed with old folk smoking in bamboo chairs and children running round.
Here there were only two sound guys in headphones.
He remembered, though, that for his first official performance in an Anshan tea house, in 1956 when he was 23 and faint with nerves, he had tried his routine on a few colleagues first.
A few were as good as a crowd.
So he told "The Three Heroes and Five Gallants" to the sound guys, improvising and with lots of slang as usual, watching closely to see where they laughed, and where they dozed off.
That broadcast, he later found out, was heard by 100m people.
It brought him such fame that by the end of a 60-year career he had performed more than 12,000 episodes of more than 100 stories on 500 TV and radio stations.
He had filled stadiums.
His hoarse, smoky voice, "cloud covering the moon" as the saying went, was listened to everywhere, by farmers in fields, workers commuting and, especially, by taxi drivers, to while the traffic away.
"Wherever a well has water", people tuned in to him.