• Humor and Satire in Contemporary Chinese Drama

    Shiao-ling S. Yu (see profile)
    GS Drama and Performance
    Chinese drama
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    MLA 2023
    Conf. Org.:
    Conf. Loc.:
    San Francisco, CA
    Conf. Date:
    January 5-8 2023
    Chinese literature
    Permanent URL:
    Humor has always been important in Chinese drama. The four major role-types in traditional Chinese drama include the chou (usually translated as “clown”), the others being male roles, female roles, and “painted face” roles. Although placed last in the four-tier hierarchy, the humble clown with his comical facial makeup and humorous speech is an indispensable figure in any play, tragedy or comedy. Hence, the adage “without the chou there would not be drama.” This paper will discuss how this modern Peking opera employs traditional dramatic form and the role of the clown to address contemporary issues. In a departure from convention, Xu Jiujing, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, is cast as a clown. In his trial of two equally powerful officials involved in the kidnapping of a young bride, he succeeds in bringing the criminal to justice not by the power of law vested in him but by the humor, wit, and clever tricks of the clown. The reward for his labor is not promotion but termination of his career—he resigns from his judgeship to become a wine peddler. The question of power vs. law and the abuse of power raised in this opera can be found in many other literary works published after the Cultural Revolution. After ten long years of lawlessness, Chinese people were eager to establish an effective legal system as safeguard against future political upheavals. By setting the action in the past, the playwrights of this opera followed the time-honored tradition of using the past to criticize the present.
    Last Updated:
    1 year ago


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