Ninghai Pingdiao(Flat Tone)

Updated:  May 15, 2020 L M S

Ninghai Pingdiao, also known as “Flat Tone”, is an opera style created by Ninghai artists toward the end of the Qing Dynasty (AD 1644-1911) that is accompanied by a stunt known as “Teeth Playing”. A performance of teeth playing is equally both rough and delicate, full of wildness and acuity. A reprehensive work of Ninghai Pingdiao, The Show of Small Money gained wide popularity in Ninghai county during the 20th century.

Ninghai Pingdiao is one of the oldest local opera styles and is an important branch of the “high tune music style” in Zhejiang province. As it is performed in Ninghai dialect featuring gentle melodies, it is also called Ninghai Flat Tone. 


Teeth Playing performance [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Developed between the end of the Ming and Qing dynasties (AD 1368-1644), the art form has a history of over 300 years. Because most practitioners of the art are residents of Ninghai, Ninghai Pingdiao is also known as "Ninghai Local Troupe".

For the performance of Teeth Playing, artists often use the tusks of male pigs that weigh over 200 kilograms as props. Each artist practices for 1 to 3 years before giving their first performance, training to properly “play” the teeth with aptitude. 

Teeth Playing looks easy but is actually very difficult. During training, artists endure many hardship and difficulties, such as oral inflammation, numbness of the tongue, dizziness and disrupted appetite. Some artists even develop ulcers and calluses in their mouths from practicing the skill. 

During performance, the artist will keep the tusks in their mouth, and move the teeth around primarily using the tongue, with additional assistance from their lips and teeth. Then the artist makes mouth movements of biting, licking, swallowing and vomiting. 

The perfect combination of Ninghai Pingdiao and Teeth Playing often makes the audience absorbed and engrossed. Ninghai Pingdiao (coupled with Teeth Playing) is a feat with distinctive regional characteristics and strict procedures. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the art continued to improve and won has great reputations inside and outside the province. 

Masters of Ninghai Pingdiao have taken part in many festivals and performances at the national and provincial level, winning many prizes, including first prize at the Zhejiang Operas Exchange Performance, first prize at the Fifth China "Fhododendron" Folk Opera Festival, and the golden medal at the “China (Hangzhou) Folk Opera Invitational Tournament”.