Entertainers, known as Youren (优人), or Changyou (倡优), Paiyou (俳优), or Youling (优伶), were folk artists who performed story-telling, dancing, acrobatics, and comedy. After the Song and Yuan dynasties, they also performed in operas. Initially formed as small groups of entertainers sponsored by court aristocrats for entertainment, they evolved into professional performing troupes as cities grew in size after the Song and Yuan dynasties. In old China when ideological and ethical principles were valued to the neglect of entertainment, entertainers were low in social status. Sima Qian, in the “Biographies of Jesters” section of his Records of the Historian, praised entertainers for boldly giving moral advice to rulers. This practice later became a major criterion for commenting on entertainers, and it also became a conscious choice of aspiring entertainers.
The King of Wu indulges himself in pleasure making and forgets all about the common folk. He meddles in farming by violating the laws governing the cycle of seasons, trusts slanderers, relishes the company of entertainers; he just does not want to hear candid advice from his ministers and keep them alienated.(Discourses on Governance of the States)
A Qin-dynasty entertainer called Zhan advised the Second Emperor of Qin against painting city walls, and an entertainer of the State of Chu named Meng asked King Zhuang of Chu not to bury his beloved steed extravagantly. Both of them tried to stop their rulers from acting in a fatuous and self-indulgent way.(Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)