Cross-talk fans across China were mourning the loss of
legendary xiangsheng actor Hou Yaowen, who passed away on Saturday aged 59. Hou
died of heart attack at 6:30 pm at his home in northern Beijing.
former vice-chairman of the Chinese Ballad Singers Association and the deputy
director and arts supervisor of the China Railway Art Troupe was the third son
of Hou Baolin (1917-93), one of the best-known exponents of xiangsheng, a comic
performance routine featuring two or more players.
Chang Xianglin, art critic and a close friend of Hou, remarked in The Beijing
News that Hou was one of four pillars of xiangsheng together with famous
performers Jiang Kun, Feng Gong and Li Jindou.
"Hou was the most important driving force in xiangsheng's development," Chang
In recent years, Hou had lured many rising xiangsheng stars to his China
Railway Art Troupe, where he insisted performers sharpen all four basic skills
of xiangsheng: talking (shuo), imitating (xue), cracking jokes (dou) and singing
"Hou once said many people regarded xiangsheng only as a show, or a handy
step towards political gains. But he had always treated xiangsheng as his
career, his very own life," Chang said.
Over the past five years, five xiangsheng masters had already passed away:
Gao Yingpei, Ma Sanli, Guo Quanbao, Ma Ji and Zhao Shizhong.
A crosstalk fan, nicknamed "Shoelace", wrote that the xiangsheng circle
without the masters had become scattered without a "commander".
"At a time when most people pursued immediate economic gains, and the weight
of money increased in the xiangsheng circle, Hou remained single-minded in
developing the folk art," he remarked.
Beijing-born Hou was one of five children. His elder brother Hou Yaohua has
also been a famous comedian on television. Their father Hou Baolin only had
three months of schooling and insisted that the children study hard before
Young Hou loved xiangsheng and all the other folk arts and when his father's
friends visited, the boy would sit on a stool outside the door and eavesdrop on
the guests telling stories and sharing their techniques.
Hou first appeared on stage in 1960 as a 12-year-old boy and over the next 47
years had become a master of the art.
He created new comical mini-dramas, such as A Day of a Hero's Mother (1989,
with Zhao Lirong) and Playing Poker (1994, with Huang Hong). These programs were
instant hits on China Central Television's gala show on the eve of the Spring
Wei Yuancheng and Zhao Weiming are the last disciples of Hou. The two actors
in Xi'an of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province met Hou in 1998, but didn't go
through the traditional ceremonies to become Hou's formal disciples until last
They found their teacher very amiable and even "like a big kid", bringing
happiness to everyone present.
In 2005, when Hou was 57, he became dissatisfied with the appearance of his
eyes and underwent a double-fold eyelid operation. "My father told me, a good
actor must let the audience see his eyes on the stage," he said at the time. "An
actor expresses himself through his eyes. Sometimes, a look is more powerful
than a move."
Hou was to celebrate his 60th birthday on July 17 with a special performance
with his friends and more than 20 disciples in Inner Mongolia.