Following the practice of Chinese jesters to cook up a simple skit in order to draw the emperor’s attention to what’s really going on, here a group of them used a pun to expose corruption in the civil service exams. 

During the reign of the Hongzhi 弘治 Emperor (r. 1487-1505), Cheng Minzheng, chief examiner of the civil service examinations, accepted bribes from candidates wishing to sneak to the top of their year by being given questions in advance.  Some jesters put on a skit before the emperor, using a pun on `cooked’ and `uncooked trotters’ (shu ti 熟蹄 and sheng ti 生蹄), homophones for `seen’ and `unseen questions’.  A jester walked in with a tray of seven cooked pigs’ trotters, crying his wares:

`Buy my trotters!’  Somebody went to buy one and asked the price.  The vendor told him, `A thousand taels each!’  The customer asked why they were so expensive and the vendor explained, `These are all cooked trotters [shu ti], not raw trotters [sheng ti]’.  The whole hall burst into an uproar, and the emperor woke up to what was going on.

 

嘗聞事未發時,孝皇內宴,優人扮出一人,以盤捧熟豚蹄七,行且號曰:賣蹄呵!一人就買,問價幾何,賣者曰:一千兩一個。買者曰:何貴若是?賣者曰:此俱熟蹄,非生蹄也。哄堂而罷。孝皇頓悟。

See another example of Chinese jesters using a skit to change things.

 

Source: Xiyuan zaji 西園雜記, by Xu Xian 徐咸 (Ming), fol. 1, Congshu Jicheng 叢書集成, ed. Wang Yunwu 王雲 (Taipei: Yiwen Yinshuguan, 1967-), book 3913, pp. 30-31.

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