Project

Tales of Wit and Enlightenment: Buddhism and Literati Humor in Song Dynasty China

Program

Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Program in China Studies Early Career Fellowships

Department

Languages, Liteatures, and Cultures

Abstract

This book offers a new approach to the study of humor and laughter in premodern China by producing a synthesis of religious and literary perspectives that to date have been conceived as two distinct bodies of inquiry. Viewing these two perspectives as coexisting and inseparable features of Song (960-1279) literati humor, the book finds a rich vein of connections between Chan Buddhist literature and various forms of entertainment preserved in Song anecdotes, including remarks on poetry, vernacular storytelling, and theatrical performance. It shows that during the Song, anecdotal writing became a mode of expression shared by both Buddhist monks and literati, who resorted to humor to negotiate the dual functions of Buddhist tales as teachings of enlightenment and sources of entertainment.