In The joys of indexing I essayed a rough classification of the many Chinese jokes on this blog; with this one I can now add the subhead “ancient”.
The man of Song (a kingdom during the Warring States era, equivalent to modern Henan) is a niche early butt of many stories, recalling similar jokes around the world targeting out-groups such as the Irish, viola players, and so on.
A story from chapter 49 of the Han Feizi tells how a man of Song, tilling his fields, sees a rabbit hurtle into a tree-stump and break its neck; whereupon he gives up farming and waits for more rabbits to suffer a similar fate. LOL 😀
With this early experiment in the “Man walks into a bar” trope, it’s no wonder that Han Feizi, despite his speech impediment, was in such demand as a standup on the Warring States Comedy Club circuit. Of course, audience response varied by kingdom, as Ken Dodd later found:
You can tell a joke in Liverpool and they won’t laugh in London… they can’t hear it.
But wait, there’s more! Han Feizi’s story has a moral, à la Stewart Lee: it’s a metaphor for “those who attempt to rule people of the current era with the governance of previous kings”:
Jacob Rees-Mogg (“Minister for the 18th century”) take note.
The story gave rise to the popular proverb
shouzhu daitu 守株待兔
guarding the stump, waiting for rabbits
Chinese kids’ cartoons are so cute (cf. No silver here, a rather similar theme):
See also A feminist Chinese proverb. For more from Han Feizi, click here.
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