Tale telling was an artistic form of telling stories through talking and singing that originated in the pre-Qin times. By the late years of the Han Dynasty to the Wei and Jin period, Buddhists and Daoists started to interpret religious scripts with vernacular language and vivid stories. In the Tang Dynasty, monks used talking and singing to interpret religious doctrines. On the basis of these early attempts, tale telling prospered in the Song Dynasty. It was no longer confined to temples, but became a form of popular entertainment on stages and at marketplaces. It included many subgenres such as histories based on works of authors of the Han to the Tang dynasties, skits with talking and singing, farces, stories of the Three Kingdoms and stories of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. In the Southern Song Dynasty, tale telling covered four subjects: stories told to the accompaniment of a wind instrument, war stories, histories of past dynasties as well as Buddhist allegories and tales about wise thoughts inspired by worshipping at shrines. Tale telling entertainers were good at talking, singing and telling jokes; and drums, gongs and other musical instruments were used to enhance the appeal. Poetic lines were read and an anecdote was told at the beginning of the show, a trick used by performers that drew cheers and applause from early comers and ensured that late arrivals would not miss the main show. Performances would often end with a recitation of other poetic lines. Tale telling was very popular among common folks throughout the Song Dynasty. The scripts thus developed became an important part of old-time vernacular Chinese fiction.
说话有四家。一者小说，谓之银字儿，如烟粉、灵怪、传奇。说公案皆是搏刀赶棒及发迹变泰之事，说铁骑儿谓士马金鼓之事。说经谓演说佛书，说参请谓宾主参禅悟道等事。讲史书讲说前代书史文传兴废争战之事。 （灌圃耐得翁《都城纪胜•瓦舍众伎》） （说话分为四家。一是小说，又称“银字儿”，如讲说烟花女子的爱情故事、讲说神灵鬼怪的故事、讲说男女爱情的传奇之类。说公案讲说的都是使刀弄棒的江湖游侠或某人发迹发达的故事，说铁骑儿就是战斗打仗的故事。说经就是讲说佛经故事，说参请就是讲说宾主间参禅悟道的故事。讲史书就是讲说前代史书、文章、传记所记载的王朝兴废及争战的故事。）
Tale telling covers four subjects: first, prostitutes' yearning for love, spirits good and evil, and romance between men and women; second, legendary fiction involving weapon-wielding knights-errant or men who leap from rags to riches; third, war heroes; fourth, Buddhist stories or discussion between host and guest when the latter visits a temple. Besides, tale telling also deals with history and the wars as well as rise and fall of dynasties as recorded in articles and biographies. (Naideweng: Wonders of the City of Lin’an)
- 说话者谓之“舌辩”。 （吴自牧《梦粱录》卷二十） （说话可以说是凭口舌伶俐辩给争胜。）
A tale teller strives to achieve success with smooth tongue. (Wu Zimu: A Pipe Dreamer’s Records)