An actor who showed all the signs of being a jester was He Jiasheng 何家聲 (What Family Reputation). During the reign of the Guangxu Emperor (r. 1875-1908) he used an improvised pun to comment on the lack of reform in government.
In the play Clear Brook Cave, he acted the role of Monkey, a part usually requiring the actor to amaze the audience with magical tricks and changes and to chase evil demons. Instead he simply shook his body three or four times then stood stock still. Somebody said:
`Everybody wants to see you perform your magic tricks [bian fa], so why don’t you get on with it?’ What Family Reputation pointed to the audience and said, `Look! Of all those great people, not one of them is even thinking of changing the law [bian fa]! So how can you expect me alone to start changing?’
近上海優伶中， 有名何家聲者， 以善滑稽 名。一日，演清溪洞，何扮孫悟空。向來扮是腳色者，當追遂妖魔時，變幻百出，令人眼迷。是日，何演此劇時，搖身三四，安然不動。旁有一人問之曰：『人人皆要看汝變法，汝何以竟變不出來？』何指座中諸人曰：『你看！諸位大人沒有一個想變法的？如何你單教我變起來？』
For other Qing dynasty actors taking on this jesterly role, see a comment on two of the most celebrated Beijing Opera performers.
Source: Xing Zuisheng 醒醉生 (Wang Kangnian 汪康年), Zhuangxie xuanlu 莊諧選錄, 2 vols (Taibei: Xin Wenfeng Chuban Gongsi, 1978), quoted in Ren Erbei 任二北 (comp. and ed.), Youyu ji 優語集 (Shanghai: Wenyi Chubanshe, 1981; repr. 1982), p. 231.
Photo credit: Shanghai Jingju Theater Company