As an ancient performing art in China, quyi is a general term that covers several different types of performances in which speech, singing or both are used. As an independent art, it was formed in the middle Tang Dynasty and flourished in the Song Dynasty. Now more than 300 forms of quyi are popular among all ethnic groups throughout the country. The most influential and widespread forms are jingyun dagu, meihua dugu, shulaibao, danxian, xiangsheng, pingshu, kuaiban, Tianjin shidiao, xihe dagu, Dongbei dagu, er'-renzhuan, Suzhou pinghua, Yangzhou pinghua, pingtan, Fengyang huagu, Shandong ginshu, Shandong kuaishu, Henan Zhuizi, Sichuan gingyin, Hubei daoqing, yuequ, Shanbei shuoshu and Mongolian haolaibao.
Performances consist usually of only one, two or three people, with simple props and no stage scenery. Major singing forms, such as danxian, jingyun dagu and meihua dagu, normally tell short stories and the songs are short. Some combine singing with speech, such as Suzhou pingtan and Xihe dagu, and these are often long pieces. Some are half sung and half spoken, such as kuaiban and Shandong Kuaishu. Talking forms include pingshu and pinghua, which are used to tell long stories which continue over several months, in addition to xiangsheng, which involves short pieces that can be finished in a few minutes or even in a few lines. The performers sit as they sing in some forms, such as tanci, qinshu and pingshu, but walk up and down when singing in the er'renzhuan mode of Northeast China and the Fengyang huagu mode of Anhui Province. In other forms the performers stand, including dagu, uaiban, zhuizi, and qingyin. Singing is accompanied by musical instruments, clappers or drums. Instruments include sanxian, sihu and yangqin.
Quyi has a wide mass basis and a strongly Chinese flavor. Many excellent quyi items reflect the Chinese people's thought, ideals and moral aspirations; many works sing the praises of national heroes, honest officials, and faithful lovers. Currently, there are specialized quyi performing troupes and teams at central and local levels, such as the Central Broadcasting Recitation and Singing Troupe, Tianjin quyi Troupe, Shanghai Pingtan Troupe, Suzhou Pingtan Troupe, Shenyang Quyi Troupe and Sichuan Quyi Troupe. In addition, there are many amateur quyi troupes.