The term refers to a form of theatrical performance combining song and speech popular in the Jin and Yuan periods. The drama is composed of sets of songs. Each set of songs is composed of the same mode of music, or gongdiao. During the performance, one set of songs is followed by another set of songs. Between them, the performer adds spoken narrative to explain the story and string the plot together. Sometimes single ditties are added. The genre had a marked influence on the development of Yuan zaju or opera. The zhugongdiao version of Romance of the Western Chamber by Dong Jieyuan is the most intact extant zhugongidao drama, and represents the best of Jin Dynasty opera.
The use of humorous and comic language in ci poems began in the Zhihe era(1054) of the Song Dynasty, but did not become widespread until the Jiayou era (1056-1063). During the Xining, Yuanfeng and Yuanyou periods (1068-1086), the comic performances of Zhang Shanren of Yanzhou were the best in the capital, and he would often make up verses of his own. It was Kong Sanchuan of Zezhou who first used zhugongdiao to tell the legendary tales of ancient times, and most literati could recite the lines and hum the tunes. (Wang Zhuo: Musings from Biji Lane)
In the capital Bianjing, there was Kong Sanchuan who wrote dramas based on legendary tales and stories of gods and spirits, which he then combined with music to perform in zhugongdiao song-speech style. Today, Xiong Baobao, a female performer in Hangzhou, and other younger women who imitated him, also perform exquisitely. (Wu Zimu : Notes of Past Dreams)