Chunyu Kun 淳于髡 – 4th century BC

Chunyu Kun (or ‘Baldy Chunyu’) is one the jesters included in Sima Qian’s (145-c. 86 b.c.) ‘Biographies of Jesters’ in the Historical Records

He served at the court of Weiwang of Qi (c. 356-319 b.c.) and used wit and other forms of indirect humour to remind the king not to neglect his duties in living it up too much. He was also entrusted with diplomacy such as when the country was threatened with invasion, and he persuaded the king to give him the resources needed to fulfill his mission. 

Portrait of Sima Qian: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sima_Qian_(painted_portrait).jpg
Portrait of Sima Qian: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sima_Qian_(painted_portrait).jpg

There are two anecdotes about Baldy reining in the king’s drinking and the neglect of business it engendered. In both cases he used a gently humorous and indirect way to get the message across.  

On one occasion he used a riddle to wake the king up to the disaster he could bring on the state if he didn’t take his obligations seriously. 

 

Portrait of Sima Qian: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sima_Qian_(painted_portrait).jpg
Portrait of Sima Qian: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sima_Qian_(painted_portrait).jpg

When once Weiwang asked his jester how much wine it took to floor him, he said that on formal occasions he only needed a gallon, but the more relaxed the atmosphere, the more he could ‘knock back’ before being knocked out, then slipping in a wrapped up warning. 

Sima Qian - Historical Records - Jesters - Dongfang Shuo
Sima Qian - Historical Records - Jesters - Dongfang Shuo

Baldy did couch good advice in humour and managed to avoid ruination. He persuaded Weiwang to focus on the affairs of state, and the king put him in charge of receptions for foreign dignitaries and ambassadors.  Henceforth, Baldy was `always at his side’ on important occasions. 

Sima Qian clearly thought highly of jesters, whereas Liu Xie (c. 465-522) was ambivalent about their levity.  However, even he commented (in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons) that Baldy used it for good purpose, being one of those jesters who:

`In spite of their wandering and devious speeches always aim towards the right principle.’ 

 

References

Liu Xie 劉勰 (c. 465-522), Wenxin Diaolong Jinyi 文心雕龍今譯, trans. Zhou Zhenfu, ed. Ji Ren (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1986), p. 132; trans. ‘On Humor and Enigma’ in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, Vincent Yu-chung Shih (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), p. 80

Sima Qian 司馬遷 (c. 145-86 BC), `Guji liezhuan’ 滑稽列傳, in Shiji 史記, annot. Pei Yin (Shanghai: Zhonghua Shuju, 1963)

Sima Qian, `Jesters’, in War Lords, trans. by William Dolby and John Scott (Edinburgh: Southside, 1974), pp. 157-68

Weingarten, Oliver, ‘Chunyu Kun: Motifs, Narratives, and Personas in Early Chinese Anecdotal Literature’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 27:3 (July 2017), pp. 501-21

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