Part of the pabulum

To celebrate this year’s April Fools’ Day, I’d like to share with you the Preface of the classical Chinese Expanded Treasury of Laughter, a collection of jokes by the Ming dynasty writer Feng Menglong, who also signed himself ‘The Master of Ink-Fool Studio’.

Delightfully and bracingly irreverent, his opening remarks take mocking pot shots at sage kings, wise ministers and revered religious and philosophical eminences.  All regular targets for Chinese jesters.

And if the quote below looks dauntingly long to read, simply click the audio file alongside to enjoy our recorded version, listening time six minutes.

Audio quote - Feng Menglong - Preface to the Expanded Treasury of Laughter

Quote - Feng Menglong - Guang Xiaofu

It’s always been all talk, tales, and the tales have always been a joke.  Who ever actually witnessed The Development of Heaven From Primordial Chaos?  Or The Noble Abdications of Sage Kings Yao and Shun?  Or The Campaigns and Punitive Wars of Kings Cheng Tang – founder of the Shang dynasty – and Wu – founder of the Zhou dynasty?  Such are only talk, the chatter of tales, as well, no more.


Talk in time to come about nowadays will be just like talk nowadays about times gone by.  If talk isn’t taken seriously, it’s a joke. And if it is believed, why, that’s even more of a joke!


The scriptures, the classics of history and the canons of philosophy are the talk of departed ghosts, yet people vie to preach and expound them.  Poetry and prose essays are thin, insubstantial talk, yet people vie to become skilled in the composition of them.  Public praise and censure, and moralising acclaim and condemnation, are all loose, unfounded talk, yet people do their utmost to scurry after the ones and escape the others.


Some laugh at others, and some are laughed at by others.  And those who laugh at others also become the butt of others’ laughter, while those who are the butt of others’ laughter likewise have their turn of laughing at others.  Ah, humans will never stop laughing at one another, will they!


This Expanded Treasury of Laughter is a collection of talk – of anecdotes and little tales – and laughs, its thirteen chapters being like clouds, but even more insubstantial than clouds.  Please don’t be delighted when you read it.  And please don’t get cross either.


Yes, what a laugh I find you, Yao and Shun, with your abdications of the throne, and you, Cheng Tang and Wu, with your seizings of the throne and world!  I’m told that there isn’t a single eye-witness to it all!  And once that’s realised, it all turns out to be nothing more than a scrap of street-corner gossip.


And then there’s all that nattering on about what-you-may-call-’em – the ministers Long Feng, Bi Gan, Yiyin and Lü Shang, and those hermits Chaofu, Xu Yu, Po Yi and Shu Qi, whoever they were … Well, I’ve not even got the time to waste laughing at you!


What a joke I find that old Li Tan – Laozi’s – five-thousand word Way and Its Power classic of Daoism, and that Sakyamuni’s five thousand volumes of written words.  All the one served to do was pointlessly stir up Daoist priests, sending them round bashing their Cloud Gongs, and the other just got the Buddhist bonzes going about rattling their Wooden Fish begging-clappers – down-and-out jobs for urchin choir-boys!  And when in Heaven’s name was there ever such a creature as the Green Cow that Laozi’s supposed to have ridden?  Or ever the sniff of anything vaguely like the White Elephant said to have been Buddha’s dad?  And Buddha’s to blame for rousing that stinking old barbarian Boddhidharma and sending him here too, with his endless re-chewing and re-washing of the crumbs of those same old dried turds!


And what a laugh you are, old gaffer Confucius, with all your long-winded blabber about Orthodox Ethics and Edifying Writings or what-have-you, and you made a lot of living people into dead ones for no good reason as well!


And you, Daoist pope Zhang Daoling and Daoist saint Xu Jingyang, you both make me laugh, too!  All right, so what if you did ascend to Heaven in broad daylight?  What good did it do you?  You failed to let your Vital Life Essences go their full course, and in the end they were nothing but a shower of miserable ghosts, unfulfilled and condemned to restless haunting!


Stop!  Stop!  Stop!  There’s still all the rest of that one great treasury of the laughable – the whole world past and present, with you and me in the middle of it as well, as part of the pabulum.  Man isn’t man without talk, and talk’s unthinkable without laughter.  Yes, the world wouldn’t be the world without talking and laughing.


Ah, Cloth-Bag Monk, Maitreya the Laughing Buddha, my master!  Yes, you’re my master!


古今來莫非話也,話莫非笑也。兩儀之混沌開闢,列聖之揖讓征誅,見者其誰耶?夫亦話之而已耳。後之話今,亦猶今之話昔。話之而疑之,可笑也,話之而信之,尤可笑也。經書之史,鬼話也,而爭傳焉。詩賦文章,淡話也,而爭工焉。褒譏伸抑,亂話也,而爭趨避焉。或笑人,或笑於人,笑人者亦復笑於人,笑於人者亦復笑人,人之相笑寧有已時?《廣笑府》,集笑話也,十三篇猶云薄乎云爾。或閱之而喜,請勿喜,或閱之而嗔,請勿嗔。堯與舜,你讓天子,我笑那湯與武,你奪天子,他道是沒有個傍人兒覷,覷破了這意思兒也不過是個十字街頭小經紀。還有什麼龍比逢干伊和呂,也有什麼巢父許由夷與齊,只這般唧唧噥噥的,我也那裡工夫笑著你。我笑那李老聃五千言的道德,我笑那釋迦佛五千卷的文字,乾惹得那些道士們去打雲鑼,和尚們去打木魚,弄兒窮活計,哪曾有什麼青牛的道理,白牛的滋味,怪的又惹出那達磨老臊胡來,把這些乾屎橛的渣兒,嚼了又嚼,洗了又洗。又笑那孔子的老頭兒,你絮叨叨說什麼道學文章,也平白地把好些活人都弄死。又笑那張道陵 許旌陽,你便白日昇天也成何濟,只這些未了精精兒到底來也只是一淘冤苦的鬼。住住住!還有一古今世界一大笑府,我與若皆在其中供話柄,不話不成人,不笑不成話,不笑不話不成世界。布袋和尚,吾師乎,吾師乎,墨憨齋主人題。

Hope you enjoyed the quote, whether you read or listened to it.  And happy April Fools’ Day!

Note there is an online text of the Treasury of Laughter at the Chinese Text Project, while Brandon Seah also provides the text, along with an introduction, additional resources, and a translation.

Source: Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 (1574-1646), preface to Guang Xiaofu 廣笑府, in Lidai xiaohua ji 歷代笑話集, Wang Liqi 王利器, ed. (Hong Kong: Xinyue Chubanshe, c. 1958).  Translation by William Dolby.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This