Jokebooks and Humour Publications in Late-Ming China

From the mid-1500s onwards, Ming China saw a boom in printing and publishing which generated an explosion of fresh intellectual currents, increased the accessibility of all kinds of information and fundamentally altered people’s relationship with knowledge and the written word. This talk will place the spotlight on the little-studied corpus of jokebooks and humour publications that rose up amid this flurry of activity.
The publishing boom placed the crucial choice of what kind of material to disseminate in the hands of a new group of men – an ascendent class of world-savvy publishing bosses who presided over print enterprises of varying sizes and levels of influence. The talk will adopt the perspective of these compiler-publishers, whose mindfulness of the exposure and perceived responsibilities that came with their newfound platform is betrayed by the prefaces and public-facing paratextual materials they composed for their books. Through a close examination of these texts, Dr Smithrosser explores how, caught between a humour-hungry readership and inherited negative prescriptions against/circumscriptions of humorous material, publishers made use of the prefatory space to perform a careful yet precarious dance, which on the one hand defended their decision to publish, while on the other was cautious to distance themselves from the material itself.

Elizabeth Smithrosser is currently a Fellow of the International Institute for Asian Studies, Leiden.