Forest of Laughter and Traditional Chinese Jestbooks

The Xiaolin (Forest of Laughter) is considered the first collection of jokes in the history of Chinese literature. This entry describes its textual history and contents and gives an overview of subsequent Chinese collections of jokes in premodern times.

The traditional Chinese literary view bestowed value mainly on those texts that pursued a didactic and moral purpose; however, several scholars in Chinese history composed works, recording and gathering anecdotes, to be enjoyed in leisure time. The Xiaolin appeared in the literary panorama during the end of the Han period and beginning of the Wei period (3rd century CE) when, among the educated elite, being able to entertain someone with witty conversation was praised. A society well-disposed toward humor-related practices was the perfect background for the appearance ...

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