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Unlike many other traditional Chinese operas which are faced with a shrinking audience, Suzhou Pingtan is still enjoyed by many people. And while young artists of other Chinese operas have been struggling to win recognition, a number of the Suzhou Pingtan Troupe's performers have achieved pop star status. When these young actors and actresses appear on stage, usually about half the audience is in their 20s.

Pingtan, one of more than 250 forms of Chinese opera, began to emerge in its present form in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It developed from ballad-singing and story-telling performances in the Suzhou area.

During the shows, two performers tell folktales and sing folk songs to the accompaniment of a pipa (a string instrument which is plucked) and a sanxian (a three-stringed instrument).

At the turn of this century, many artists moved to Shanghai to perform at special story-telling houses. In the 1930s, some well-known artists performed on the radio. Since then, Suzhou Pingtan has become a major form of traditional opera in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River.

When traditional stories had lost their appeal, writers created stories reflecting contemporary society.

The tales of love affairs between gifted scholars and beautiful maidens have given way to stories like "Customs House of Kowloon," a story about police and customs officials fighting smugglers in Guangdong Province in which the police chief infiltrates a smuggling ring.

The story proved to be a hit, and has been on the list of performances for a few years. It has even been aired on the radio.

The success of storiesis the key to the revival of Pingtan. Today, the list of popular Pingtan stories is endless. The most cited is "Paradise and Hometown," an emotional story about a brother and a sister who start life on different paths and finally come together. The underlying message is "East, West, home is best."

Scriptwriters and performers are also adapting great Chinese classics into Pingtan shows. These well-known tales include the "Romance of three Kingdoms," "Outlaws of the Marsh" and "A Dream of Red Mansions."