The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China
China's entry in modernity was not just traumatic, but uproarious. As the Qing last dynasty fell, prominent writers compiled jokes to form collections called “histories of laughter.” In the first years of the republic, novelists, essayists, and illustrators used humorous allegories to make veiled critiques of the new government. Yet political and cultural discussion repeatedly erupted into invective, with critics gleefully jeering rivals in public. Farceurs drew followings in the popular press, promoting a culture of buffoonery. These expressions of hilarity proved so offensive to high-brow writers that they launched a campaign in the 1930s to displace old forms of mirth with a new one they called youmo(humor). What can we learn about history from those who laugh their way through it? Focusing on the case of China, this talk will discuss how political turmoil, new media, and other forces nurtured cultures of humor in a modernizing society, from the last days of empire to the digital age.
This event is free and open to the public and is cosponsored by the Department of
East Asian Languages and Literatures and the Long U.S.-China Institute.
About the Speaker
Christopher Rea is the Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. He is author of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (California, 2015); editor of China’s Literary Cosmopolitans: Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang, and the World of Letters (Brill, 2015) and Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts: Stories and Essays by Qian Zhongshu (Columbia, 2011); and coeditor, with Nicolai Volland, of The Business of Culture: Cultural Entrepreneurs in China and Southeast Asia. He is currently translating, with Bruce Rusk, a Ming dynasty story collection called The Book of Swindles.