China and Inner Asia
Session Abstract: Identifying comic players performing pointed historical models as “faultless insects,” Nai Deweng’s 1235 memoir on the Southern Song capital of Hangzhou neatly captures an assessment of wit and humor common in traditional Chinese sources. The crux of the problem with humor and comedy is its use of indirection. And while a slippage between what is said and what is meant is in no way specific to humorous utterances, inappropriate use of language nonetheless draws the focus of critics. Jokes and the comic engage a broad register that includes common, vulgar expression and complex or deceptive verbiage (qiaoyan 巧言). The use of terms in jokes and jests demonstrates a lack of consonance with the principle of rectified names (zhengming 正名) leading to a disordering of ethical human relationships. Thus, as noted across traditional sources, humor can only be recoverable as indirect remonstrance; jokes, jests, irony, and sarcasm are made acceptable as a form of moral corrective.
Against this background, papers in our panel address how non-serious expression might be effective beyond the function of ironic critique. Tung’s research into Sung literati concerns about the use of elegant wit provides a fresh approach to understanding shifting elite identities. Myhre explores the use of dense comic allusion in a Yuan song on disappointed love. Leggieri details the rich complex of humorous strategies in a late Ming huaben 話本 collection. The panel as a whole traces how humor can enlighten or obscure understanding, forge and divide communities, and entertain listeners and readers.
Virtual Paper Presenter: Karin Myhre – University of Georgia
Virtual Paper Presenter: Yung-chang Tung – Academia Sinica
Virtual Paper Presenter: Antonio Leggieri – Università del Salento