While many of China’s leading cultural critics were cutting each other down to size in the late 1920s and early 1930s, popular writers of a more entrepreneurial bent, particularly in Shanghai, were focusing on just being funny (huaji). They were preoccupied with the absurdities of urban life, especially hoaxes, scams, and practical jokes, perpetrated in print media, such as plagiarism and bogus advertisements. Farce was particularly popular among writers like Xu Zhuodai who also worked as editors, actors, playwrights, filmmakers, radio broadcasters, and consumer product vendors. In their stories, they celebrated swindles for fun and profit and often cast entrepreneurs like themselves as dynamic figures uniquely suited to navigating the pitfalls of modernity. Xu’s style of huaji farce proved popular, his innocuous form of comic entertainment offering stimulating fantasies of the everyday in which frauds, con women, and pranksters were not just welcome companions but even models of emulation.
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