China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: Humor is simultaneously universal and culturally-historically specific, present in all human societies but often indecipherable to those who do not share the knowledge, experience, and beliefs of its intended audience. The hermeneutic challenges posed by humor as an object of critical inquiry are compounded by the richness and duration of China’s literary legacy. While recent scholarship has contributed greatly to our understanding of humor, especially in late imperial and modern China, many questions remain about what, why, and by whom situations or texts might be considered humorous. This panel considers these questions and others through close reading and analysis of literary texts from China’s 4th through 12th centuries. The first paper, by Jack Chen, interrogates epistemological ambiguity between humor and horror in ghost stories from early medieval China. Alexei Ditter follows by examining humor’s discursive construction of “others” in a 6th-century jestbook. The third paper, by Xiaojing Miao, focuses on how Tang poets used humor to craft positive self-portrayals of themselves across different genres. Finally, Xiao Rao’s paper peruses Buddhism’s influence over the humorous image of the literary giant Su Shi (1037-1101) in Song anecdotes. Through its exploration across a broad range of premodern Chinese literature—including jestbooks but also genres not traditionally associated with humor, such as poetry, supernatural tales, and religious accounts—this panel offers new insights into what humor was, how it could shape literary, religious, and social identities of selves and others, and how it adapted to different audiences and eras across China’s 4th-12th centuries.
Virtual Paper Presenter: Jack W. Chen – University of Virginia
Virtual Paper Presenter: Alexei Ditter – Reed College
Virtual Paper Presenter: Xiaojing Miao – University of Oxford
Virtual Paper Presenter: Xiao Rao – University of North Carolina Greensboro