Once known as Ningbo Wenshu, or Siming Wenshu, Siming Nanci is a kind of folk performance shows in Ningbo dialect in place of Zhejiang Province where the ethnic Han prevails. Siming Nanci can date back to more than 300 years ago in eastern Zhejiang Province. The folk show, originally sung by amateurs, was later performed by professional artists. In early times, roles in Nanci fell into four main types of characters: sheng (the male character), dan (the female character), jing (the painted face) and mo (the clown). Later, they evolved into a string player, a dulcimer player, two or three pipa players, and Erhu players. The libretto carries 7 characters. Traditional books have 30 long pieces, including Zhenzhu Ta (Pearl Tower), Yu Qingting (Jade Dragonfly) and Shuang Jiefa (Double Hairdressing). Siming Nanci derived from Tao Zhen of the Song Dynasty and Tanci of the Ming Dynasty, was spread to Ningbo downtown and suburban areas. It hit the heyday between late Qing Dynasty and early days of the Republic of China, but declined in the 1940s. And it is in danger of being lost forever.
Generally speaking, Nanci can be summarized in a Chinese character Wen (Graceful). Its tunes are elegant and it was recreated by men of letters. Some lines have to do with love affairs, others are flashy yet implicit. As they were well received by scholar-officials, Nanci pieces were played on such occasions as birthday parties and other celebrations. They were very flexibly played in different forms, including double scales, three, five, seven, eleven and thirteen scales, and played with such instruments as Xiao, Sheng, dulcimer, pipa, Erhu and Xiaosanxian, among others. While playing them, performers can use free play while still focusing on its main tune in accordance to their respective features, thus producing elegant and touching melodies.
In 1958, former Ningbo Folk Art Troupe set up a Siming Nanci Troupe, which was later dismissed as a result of Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In the 1980s, reputed old performers staged performances in exhibitions. In 2000, Ningbo Municipal People’s Art Gallery organized reformed amateur performances in different singing forms. Siming Nanci was spoken and mainly sung in a Ningbo local dialect. Performers played and sang altogether with level and oblique tones. Tunes are composed of up, middle and down rhymes. Fudiao and Cidiao are basic tunes and vocal music has exerted influence on Yong Ju and Ningbo Zoushu.
In June 2008, Siming Nanci was among the second batch of items on the list of State-level Intangible Cultural Heritage.