Speaking out boldly

Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 was known as a jester to Emperor Han Wudi 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), although this tricky character covers a spectrum ranging from historical courtier to Daoist immortal.  His biography in the History of the Former Han makes frequent reference to his jesterish aspects, including the urge to speak up even in ‘severe reprimand’ of the emperor. 

Though Shuo was given to jests and buffoonery, he would on occasion observe the emperor’s mood and, if he found it right, would speak out boldly in severe reprimand.  The emperor always listened to what he had to say.



This tendency for Chinese jesters to speak out is attested to elsewhere, for example, Immortal Revelation Ding (Ding Xianxian丁仙現).


Source: `Dongfang Shuo zhuan’ 東方朔傳, in Hanshu 漢書, by Ban Gu 班固(32-92), fol. 65, Ershisi Shiji 二十四史記, Zhang Shenshi 張沈石and Wu Shuping 吾樹平 (eds) (Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju, 1980), vol. VI, fol. 65, p. 2860; trans. by Burton Watson, Burton, Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China: Selections from the `History of the Former Han’ by Pan Ku [Ban Gu] (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), pp. 94-95.

Image credits: unknown author, coloured portrait of Han Wudi 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), public domain; black and white drawing of Dongfang Shuo


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