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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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Age of Irreverence

Christopher Rea

University of California Press

In the 1890s, the word youxi (play) came to stand for a culture of amusement involving experimentation with literary form and modern devices. It remained a prominent symbol of fun for about thirty years, until a decade and a half after the Republican Revolution. Newspapers and magazines offered readers a steady diet of parodic essays, humorous poems and stories, puzzles, cartoons, caricatures, and novelty photographs. New “playthings” were also appearing: cameras, lenses, spectacles, scopes, mirrors, and other gadgets and machines. These feature in novels of the 1900s like Liang Qichao’s The Future of New China and Wu Jianren’s New Story of the Stone, as well as in urban amusement halls, photography studios offering “split-self images” and costume fantasies, and trick cinematography in slapstick films. As a type of comic amusement, youxi was closely tied to parody and allegory, and to many, adopting a playful attitude toward modern changes was a way to find China’s future.

Keywords:   play, parody, allegory, wordplay, puns, amusement halls, trick photography, visual culture, Liang Qichao, Wu Jianren

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