Dwarfs as jesters

There is considerable overlap in the role and status of court dwarfs and jesters, and many jesters were dwarfs, perhaps most notably in Europe. 

Even though some Chinese jesters were also dwarfs, such as You Shi 優施 and You Zhan 優旃, this bold assertion is striking, including as it does both dwarfs and hunchbacks.  In addition the source is particularly early in the history of jesters –  the Guoyu (Discussions of the States) dates from the Spring and Autumn Period (c. 770-c. 476 BCE), a time when references to jesters are relatively sparse, as far as we’re aware.

Quote - Guoyu

Dwarfs and hunchbacks were always jesters. 



Noteworthy too, the number of Chinese tomb and other earthenware figurines which featured dwarfs – we will be sharing others in addition to the one seen here.

Source: ‘Zheng yu’ 鄭語, in Guoyu 國語, fol. 16, quoted in Zhang Geng 張庚, ‘Shilun xiqu de qiyuan he xingcheng’ 試論戲曲的起源和形成, Xinjian she, 1 (1963), pp. 58-59.   He quotes it as: “侏儒戚施皆優笑之人”

Image credit: Figure of a dwarf entertainer (1st-2nd century), China Sichuan Province; Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, The Dr. Paul Singer Collection of Chinese Art of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; a joint gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Paul Singer, the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, and the Children of Arthur M. Sackler


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