A jester steps in

One class of jester anecdotes concerns their intervening on behalf of others, cajoling or otherwise eliciting random acts of forebearance or thoughtfulness by people often in positions of absolute power.

The First Emperor of the Qin (Qin Shi Huangdi, r. 246-210 BC), was hardly noted for kindness and consideration, but here the dwarf jester You Zhan (優旃 or Jester Twisty Pole) successfully improves the condition of the palace guards.

Note the common technique of not requesting something directly, but rather eliciting a change through an indirect or apparently casual comment.  Jester Twisty Pole engaged in what seemed a spontaneous exchange, but one which he engineered in advance.

‘One day during a feast given by the First Emperor of the Qin the dwarf Jester Twisty Pole noticed that the palace guards on duty outside were shivering in the pouring rain, and he decided to help them. He told them how to respond when he gave the sign. During the official toasts:


Jester Twisty Pole leant over the balustrade overlooking the steps and yelled, `Gentlemen of the guard!’  `Present and reporting for duty, sir!’ responded the guards.  `Huh, look at you,’ he said, `great tall, lanky fellows!  And what good does it do you?  There you are, left out in the rain.  While I’m just a short-arsed runt, and here I am taking it easy indoors with the Emperor.’  Hearing this, the Emperor arranged for guard duty to be taken in shifts.’


優旃 者,秦倡侏儒也。善為笑言,然合於大道。秦始皇時,置酒而天雨,陛楯者皆沾寒。優旃見而哀之,謂之曰:「汝 欲休乎?」陛楯者皆曰:「幸甚。」優旃曰: 「我即呼汝,汝疾應曰諾。」居有頃,殿上上壽呼萬歲。優旃臨檻大 呼曰:「陛楯郎!」郎曰:「諾。」優旃曰:「汝雖長,何益,幸雨立。我雖短也, 幸休居。」於是始皇使陛楯者得半相代。

See also a Turkish example of a jester’s intercession, concerning Tamerlane (1336-1405) and the legendary Nasrudin.


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); trans. `Jesters’, in War Lords, William Dolby and John Scott (Edinburgh: Southside, 1974), p. 167

Photo credit: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen at unsplash

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)

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