The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China by Christopher Rea

By Christopher Rea

The Age of Irreverence tells the tale of why China’s access into the trendy age used to be not only nerve-racking, yet uproarious. because the Qing dynasty slumped towards extinction, trendy writers compiled jokes into collections they known as "histories of laughter." within the first years of the Republic, novelists, essayists and illustrators alike used funny allegories to make veiled reviews of the hot govt. yet, many times, political and cultural dialogue erupted into invective, as critics gleefully jeered and derided opponents in public. Farceurs drew followings within the well known press, selling a tradition of sensible joking and buffoonery. finally, those quite a few expressions of hilarity proved so offensive to high-brow writers that they introduced a concerted crusade to rework the tone of public discourse, hoping to displace the previous varieties of mirth with a brand new one they referred to as youmo (humor).

Christopher Rea argues that this period—from the Nineties to the 1930s—transformed how chinese language humans suggestion and noted what's humorous. concentrating on 5 cultural expressions of laughter—jokes, play, mockery, farce, and humor—he finds the textures of comedy that have been part of daily life in the course of smooth China’s first "age of irreverence." This new historical past of laughter not just deals an exceptional and up-close examine a ignored part of chinese language cultural modernity, but in addition unearths its lasting legacy within the chinese of the comedian at the present time and its implications for our knowing of humor as part of human tradition.

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Reading a joke in the newspaper, of course, is not the same as hearing it in person, particularly in a time of crisis. 10 Late Qing writers like Wu Jianren tried to simulate the intimacy of a group of friends. Those with a background in journalism, especially, also tried to capture the excitement of live performances. ”11 Scholars of jokes sometimes say that jokes are authorless because their origins are impossible to trace. 12 But the newspaper age changed Chinese joking practices by putting last night’s witticisms down “in black ink on white paper,” and under a byline.

While focusing on a period spanning about forty years, this book thus opens up genealogical threads that extend in multiple directions. It chronicles changes in how Chinese people laughed, what they laughed at, and how they talked about laughter, as well as what drove those changes. Instead of following a single or linear chronology, it highlights how multiple cultures of humor changed and influenced one another over time. ”48 It is less concerned with extolling the virtues of Chinese comic traditions (and modern innovations) or defending them against their critics.

While the genre is by no means new to China, books of this type are stale and derivative, lacking any particularly new consciousness or flavor. The one I would single out, The Expanded Forest of Laughs, is known to every woman and child. Unfortunately, its content is vulgar and base, consisting entirely of obscene jests of the lower orders. Not only does it hold no benefit for the reader, it might even lead him to slide into licentiousness. ” “Of course,” he replied. The next time they did it his wife complained that it appeared to be as small as ever.

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