Jokes on the Four Books: Cultural criticism in early modern China
AuthorHuang, Ching-Sheng, 1952-
AdvisorTao, Chia-lin Pao
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractJokes were considered low and insignificant in traditional Chinese literature. Ssu-shu hsiao is witty and provocative, different from other conventional and contemporary jestbooks for its parodic relationship with the Four Books, which were the core-texts of Neo-Confucianism and civil service examinations. The purpose of this study is to examine the late Ming jestbook, Ssu-shu hsiao, and analyze its cultural value, sociopolitical implications, and psychological concepts. This dissertation is divided into four chapters. Chapter one contains two important parts: It establishes the ground of historical studies relevant to the significance of the Four Books and Five Classics as well as the tradition of humor and jest. Part two provides an introduction of the text Ssu-shu hsiao and a description of my interpretive strategy. In order to help the reader understand the Chinese and Western theories of humor and literary tropes related to Ssu-shu hsiao, I direct my discussion to the following issues: imitation, allusion, quotation, parody, intertextuality, and paradox. Through the comparison between Ssu-shu hsiao and two other contemporary jestbooks, Hsien-hsien p'ien and Hsiao-fu, we can understand that the jokes of the late Ming were considered as public property used by people regardless of authorship. Chapter two investigates jokes in relation to the civil service examinations. Through examination books in the bookmarkets, we know the commercialized texts available for the prospective examinees; such a cultural phenomenon sheds light on the derailing of educational function from the level of self-cultivation to that of profit-making. The downward transformation of intellectual status from the Sung dynasty to the Ming resulted from defects in various factors. Jokes concerning the examination consisted of those making fun of the forms and contents of the eight-legged essays. The methods that enable one to become an expert of this type of prose include the memorization of the Four Books, Five Classics, and their commentaries, imitating the words and teachings of ancient sage-kings. Chapter three deals with the Sung-Ming pedagogical authority, Neo-Confucianism or the so-called "True Way Learning," and its activity of "learning by discussion" (chiang-hs Ueh). The factional disputes, philosophical debates, and the problem of legitimacy are signaled by the jokes targeting the Ch'eng Brothers and Chu Hsi. The equalization of the scholars of "True Way Learning" and "mountain-recluse" ("shan-jen") was an indication of the decline of intellectual status in the late Ming. Chapter four discusses gender and sexuality in the bawdy jokes of Ssu-shu hsiao. Dirty jokes expose the conflict of moral principle and pleasure-pursuit. The male jokesters manipulated gender stereotypes humorously by which we can probe into the problems such as the practice of concubinage, the remarriage of widows, and female same-sex relationship and adultery. Joking on male same-sex sexuality is also discussed. A conclusion recapitulates the key issues of the previous chapters.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
East Asian Studies