This ringing endorsement of the effectiveness of court jesters seems a good way to launch a website celebrating them across time and space.  It comes from Sima Qian (c. 145-86 BC), ‘father’ of Chinese history, who wrote what may be the first ever study of jesters, bringing together accounts of how they influenced the behaviour of their rulers through the use of humour and related fools’ tools such as reductio ad absurdum.

His Historical Records (Shiji) cover a few thousand years from the Yellow Emperor down to his own time, ending in 95 BC. Some of the principal jesters of China are included, such as Chunyu Kun (Baldy Chunyu) (淳于髡), You Meng (優孟), You Zhan (優旃), Guo Sheren (郭舍人), and Dongfang Shuo (東方朔). In the coming weeks and months, we will be sharing more of their story.  As a starter, ‘Old Baldy Chunyu’ (c. 356-319 BC) made it into the inaugural batch of blog posts.


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Old Baldy Chun-yu laughed like hell, the King of Qi ran riot beyond belief;

Jester Meng shook his head in song and the firewood-hawker picked up a fief.

One shout from Jester Twisty Pole and wretched guards gained sweet relief.

Were all these not great men too?!!


(淳于髡仰天大笑,齊威王橫行。優孟搖頭而歌,負薪者以封。優旃臨檻疾呼, 陛楯得以半更。豈不亦偉哉!)


Source: 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), p. 3203; trans. `Jesters’, in War Lords, William Dolby and John Scott (Edinburgh: Southside, 1974), p. 168

See Sima Qian’s entry in the Canon

Chinese quotation from Sima Qian's 'Biographies of Jesters' (Guji Liezhuan) in the Records of the Historian (Shiji)

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