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Age of IrreverenceA New History of Laughter in China$
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Christopher Rea

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780520283848

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520283848.001.0001

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Breaking into Laughter 失笑‎

Breaking into Laughter 失笑‎

Chapter:
(p.1) 1 Breaking into Laughter 失笑‎
Source:
Age of Irreverence
Author(s):

Christopher Rea

Publisher:
University of California Press
DOI:10.1525/california/9780520283848.003.0001

Why was China’s entrance into the modern age accompanied by a laugh track? The early twentieth-century Chinese press is replete with invective, self-mockery, and sarcastic commentary, as well as word games, jokes, and parodies. Writers compiled jokes in columns they called “histories of laughter,” which appeared alongside “histories of pain,” as well as other genres indicative of an outlook that viewed China’s past, present, and future primarily in terms of emotion. This book explores the modern history of laughter through the Chinese vocabulary of mirth. The Chinese phrase for “to break into laughter” (shixiao), taken literally, for example, means “to lose laughter.” One fictional “history of laughter” from the 1920s even tells a story of the loss of spontaneous mirth. This book, too, reveals a lost history—one overshadowed by a discourse of trauma. If focuses on the various intonations of laughter of late Qing and Republican China, the cultures they fostered, and their influence on the course of modern Chinese history.

Keywords:   laughter, smile, historiography, modern China, trauma, tears, history of emotions

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