Onomatopoeic criticism

In this account, the Chinese emperor is put to shame by the jester In Full Streamer (Huang Fanchuo 黃幡綽) who creates a ringing bell onomatopoeia by combining one of the emperor’s names with the word for ‘dissolute’ or ‘sloppy’.  

In other words, he offers up a bracing if indirect commentary on the way the country has been run.  It’s an interesting insight into the freedom of a mere jester to pass judgement on the emperor’s performance.   

Following the quelling of the An Lushan Rebellion, Emperor Tang Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 713-56) was returning from exile.  There was a camel loaded with his expensive trinkets, and the emperor noticed the bells tinkling on the camel.  He commented to In Full Streamer that they made a sound like a human voice.  The jester reacted by combining the emperor’s name (Sanlang 三郎) with `dissolute’ or `sloppy’ (langdang), to imitate the bells:

`”They sound like someone saying `san lang lang dang, san lang lang dang!'”  The emperor laughed and felt ashamed.


『似言「三郎郎當, 三郎郎當!」』明皇笑且愧之。


Source: Kaitian chuanxin ji 開天傳信記, by Zheng Qi 鄭綮 (d. 899), Siku Quanshu 四庫全書 (Shanghai: Guji Chubanshe, 1987), vol. 1042, pp. 839a-48a; this particular anecdote is quoted in Ren Erbei 任二北 (comp. and ed.), Youyu ji 優語集 (Shanghai: Wenyi Chubanshe, 1981; repr. 1982), p. 44, but not found in the Siku Quanshu 四庫全書 version of Kaitian chuanxin ji.

Photo credit: tunechick83 at pixabay


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