Abstract

In 1975, I arranged for the blind professional singer Dou Wun (1910–1979) to sing a traditional narrative genre called naamyam in an old Hong Kong teahouse, three times weekly for three and a half months, facing the teahouse diners. Of the forty-five hours he sang there, he sang an original song composed by himself on his own life for six hours, which he reluctantly did after I pressed him on the idea. It totaled about 1,800 lines of verse, interspersed with spoken prose. In this essay, I shall first report on my concept, construction, and implementation of the fieldwork. Second, I use selected passages from his song to outline his life story. Born to a poor peasant family and blind at three months of age, Dou Wun wandered alone on the streets of Canton from age nine, received training to sing naamyam from a master singer, and finally arrived in Hong Kong in 1926, where he sang in brothels and opium dens. He lived through the difficult periods of the Japanese occupation, changing tastes in entertainment, and the early days of mass media. When times changed and his songs were no longer in demand, he ended up singing on the street. In the last part of the article, I argue for the significance of this epic autobiographical song in world oral literature and assess Dou Wun's creativity and artistry.

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