Teaching Foreigners

Comic Dialogues


Text by Wang Yongqiang
Photographs by Wang Wenquan


Ding Guangquan.
Ding's pupils: Richard Doran from Ireland, A.M.M. Anura Banda from Sri Lanka, and N.C. Din from Gabon, perform at a quyi party during the 2002 Spring Festival.

A collaboration of six countries: Malvezin Laurent from France, Jivko from Bulgaria, Belisa Morillo from Peru, Amal Said Salim Abdulla from Tanzania, Ding Guangquan, and Rowswell Mark Henry from Canada.
Performing with Rowswell Mark Henry from Canada.

Yedigaryan Liana (center) from Armenia was cast in a special program Walking Around Changdian.
Cooking for his pupils.

In China's art circles, Ding Guangquan is known as the "Coach of Foreigners" because most of his pupils are foreign students studying in Beijing. Ding is a professional comic dialogue artist of the China Coal-Mine Art Troupe and a State Grade A Performer. Over the last few years, Ding has taught comic dialogues and short comedies in Chinese to quite a number of foreign students, "as many as the United Nations," his friends joke. This sounds a bit exaggerated, but it's true that 80 students of different ages from more than 60 countries have learned from Ding.

Comic dialogue is one form of quyi, a traditional Chinese folk art that includes ballad singing, story-telling, clapper talks, comic dialogues, and skits. It is still popular today because it is brief, vivid, and humorous. It's known to all that foreigners find mandarin Chinese a difficult language to speak, not to mention the Beijing dialect. Nevertheless, many foreigners are eager to learn comic dialogues, and they soon become popular among their Chinese audiences, who are familiar now with names such as Rowswell Mark Henry from Canada, Koiac Kario from Yugoslavia, Malvezin Laurent from France, Havbensack Esther from Germany, and Amal Said Salim Abdulla from Tanzania. These students speak fluent mandarin Chinese, and their excellent performances arouse laughter. They are all the pupils of Ding Guangquan.

Not long ago, Ding Guangquan recruited four more foreign students, such as David Moser from the United States, as well as three Chinese students.

As a pupil of Hou Baolin, a master comic dialogue artist, Ding is pleased to hand down to his students the style of his master.

It was by chance in 1989 that Ding was invited to prepare a program, in which foreign students participated, for a TV evening party held by the China Construction Bank.

At the time, Rowswell Mark Henry showed his brilliant talent in mandarin Chinese, and his name became familiar to his Chinese audiences. Taking the copy of The New Story of Kong Yiji in his hand, Ding Guangquan went to the International Student Center at Peking University and got acquainted with some foreign students, such as Amal Said Salim Abdulla from Tanzania, Theron William Stansord from the United States, and Atef Zollni from Lebanon, who fluently spoke the Beijing dialect. Their performance with Rowswell Mark Henry was a success. Ding found a new path for his comic dialogues and short comedies from the warm applause of the audiences.

Foreign students became frequent visitors to Ding's house. Ding seized this opportunity to make the dreams of the older generations come true by spreading the art of comic dialogue to the world through these students. He established a Comic Dialogue Training Center, where foreign students learn systematically from him about the pronunciation, the feeling of language, the stress, stops, speed, and tones. He recorded his pronunciation and asked his students to repeat them again and again. He was very patient, especially when most of the students could hardly pronounce the second and third tones. Once Havbensack learned three sentences for a short comedy. After two hours she still couldn't speak them properly. She wept because she felt so embarrassed.

"I'm wasting your time, Mr. Ding," she said.

Ding smiled and kept on teaching. "You're doing fine," he told her. "Very good this time!" He kept on encouraging her.

Havbensack gave Ding a hug when she finally did it right.

"There is too much to say about my foreign students," Ding says, excited to discuss his pupils. "Rowswell likes to eat Chinese dumplings, and chicken with peanuts is Havbensack's favorite."

Not only do the students have classes in his house, but they also have meals there. Ding regularly displays his cooking skills because he wants to look after his pupils as a parent would. Amal was going to be married. According to Islamic tradition, the wedding ceremony must be hosted by the bride's father. Amal came to Ding, who was very happy to prepare and hold a big wedding ceremony.

"It's my obligation to look after my students, because they are far away from home," Ding says. "My daughter is abroad, and I hope that she can have someone like me to look after her."

Recently, Ding wrote a comic dialogue with Malvezin and composed another comic dialogue with Rowswell. The only thing he wants to do is to contribute to the Sino-foreign cultural exchange in comic dialogues through joint efforts with his foreign pupils.