It happened that my first choice for the event were Chinese Novellas (ed. by Hans Rudelsberger). What makes them very interesting and this choice very coincidentally appropriate is the fact that the main characters of many of these stories are young men – bachelors of literature; Hsiu Ts’ai (Flowering Talent) they were called.
In the introduction to this collection, Rudelsberger explains that for Chinese people (he wrote this almost a century ago), besides a happy marriage, becoming a scholar was THE thing one should strive for. Mastering the classics of Chinese literature was the first step toward the desirable government posts.
Interesting article: The Passing of China’s Ancient System of Literary Examinations
Rudelsberger also tells a delightful anecdote which happened on one of his visits to Beijing. It was a hot afternoon and he got out of his rickshaw to find some shadow and rest a bit. Upon returning, he found his driver gone so he went looking for him. The street was crowded and noisy as hell, stalls everywhere, acrobats, magicians… Nevertheless, on the other side of it, there was a large group of people listening breathlessly to an old, poorly dressed man, reading from a tattered notebook. He spotted his driver in this group. Approaching, the man started his apology: ‘Ta-jen, China’s most celebrated shuo-shu-ti (storyteller). He came from the forbidden city where he read for the emperor himself!’
Must learn more about these storytellers/readers.
Update: a webpage on Chinese Storytelling with a section on storytelling as a profession!