1. 秤上买卖 Balanced Business
清·游戏主人《笑林广记》From A Compilation of Jokes
By Traveling Showman, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


     Two brothers went in together to hire a tutor for their children. They agreed to a rotating schedule for providing the tutor's provisions.
     However, each time the duty changed, the one taking over would always complain that the tutor was skinnier than before. Each brother blamed the other for not feeding the man enough. Accordingly, they decided to weigh the tutor on a balance scale each turn-over day, to provide certification for the exchange.
      One time, just before the younger brother was to turn the duty over to his elder, he fed the tutor a huge meal. But who would have thought it? Just as the tutor was getting on the scale, he let loose a loud fart.
     The younger brother immediately got angry and chewed the tutor out. "How can you fart so casually when the transaction is on a balancing scale? No excuses, just hurry up and suck it back in for me!"


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 28
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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2. A Glutton for Booze 清•游戏主人《笑林广记》
From A Compilation of Jokes by Traveling Showman, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


     A fellow who lived in the countryside distilled some excellent rice wine. When his relative in city heard about it, he very much wanted to taste it, so he decided to take a trip to the country. He hoped his country relative would give him a place to stay, and feed him, and serve him some of the wine.
     Unfortunately his relative was away from home on an errand that day. The matriarch of the household sent her son out to greet the guest, and prepared a room for him to stay in, but didn't serve him the good wine.
     That night, because the relative from town hadn't had any wine to drink, he was feeling melancholy and couldn't sleep. It happened that the matriarch's room was right next to the guest's. When she went to the toilet to relieve herself during the night, she was worried that the guest would hear her, so she tried to make as little noise as possible. The pee just trickled out, drop by drop.
     The city relative did hear her next door, though, and whispered happily, "Wow, just as I was wondering why she hadn't served me any wine, she's next door filtering some. I'll bet it's for me to drink tomorrow!"
     The matriarch heard him and was so amused that she couldn't hold the pee in any longer. It flowed splashing out. When the town relative heard that, he slapped his head and sighed, "I can't get a break! She's just filtered out a tiny bit and the filter bag breaks! What a downer!"


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 25
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen, Principal Editor
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3. Brother Gives Birth
From A Collection of Humorous Stories, by Hou Bai, Sui Dynasty (581-618)


     Evergreen Slave of Humid County was by nature dull-witted and slow. One time when he had been assigned as the groom for a piebald horse, General Guo Yi ordered that all grooms would have to demonstrate their proficiency in the principles of equine management. When Evergreen Slave was examined, he was asked about the color of his horse, and he answered, "The horsey I groom is gray."
     General Guo Yi was incensed when he heard that. Not only did Evergreen Slave not know the horse's color, but he had also called it a "horsey". He ordered twenty strokes with the cane, and further commanded, "If he cannot answer correctly tomorrow, he will be put to torture. All grooms are prohibited from telling him the answer."
     When Evergreen got home, he neither ate nor spoke, but went directly to bed, moaning and groaning. His sister-in-law was home for her "sitting month" [convalescence after childbirth] and heard his moans. "What happened," she asked. "Why do you keep moaning?"
     "General Guo Yi was testing us grooms and he asked me what color mine is, and I said 'My horsey is gray.' The general gave me twenty strokes with the cane."
     "It's a piebald horse," his sister-in-law said. "How could you call it a gray horsey? No wonder you got caned."
     This made Evergreen Slave very happy. "The General is going to ask me again tomorrow," he told her. "If I can't say it right, I'll be punished under military law. But now I can answer!"
     "After you answer correctly tomorrow," his sister-in-law instructed him, "the General may want to know who told you. You must not say it was me. Tell him it was your brother."
     Next day, when Evergreen Slave answered, "It's a gray horse", General Guo did ask, "Who told you?"
     "My brother," Evergreen Slave answered.
     "And where is your brother now?"
     "He's at home."
     "What's he doing there?"
     "He's in bed after giving birth."


中国古代笑话Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 9
上海普及科学出版社Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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4. Can't Show His Face
清·游戏主人《笑林广记》From A Compilation of Jokes
by Traveling Showman, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


     A man hired a painter to create a natural and realistic portrait of himself. However, he only provided two silver pennies to cover the costs of the paper, brushes, ink and colors, as well as the painter's fee.
     The painter used watery ink to paint a picture of the man's back on rough, flimsy paper. The man blew up when he saw it.
     "The facial appearance is the quintessence of a portrait, isn't it? How could you only paint my back?"
     "I thought it would be best for you not to display your face for others to see," the painter said, slowly and unhurriedly, "seeing as how you have such a miserly countenance."


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 17
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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5. The Duke's Disciple
明·赵南星《笑赞》 From In Praise of Humor by Zhao Nanxing, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)


     A man in the North could do the Sorcerer's Dance [i.e., he could go into a trance and speak in tongues to obtain blessings from the gods]. He was honored with the title Upright Duke, and in this capacity he had a disciple to instruct.
     Once when the Upright Duke was out on an errand, someone came and asked to see the Sorcerer's Dance, offering to pay a large sum of money. The disciple had just learned to beat the drum and chant the songs, and the secret methods of the Dance had not yet been conveyed to him. His master was not there, however, and he wasn't willing to pass up the opportunity to earn so much money. With no other choice, he had to pluck up his courage and go with the man who was paying him.
     When they got to the place for the Dance, he delayed for a long time, but didn't experience any possession by the gods. He could do nothing better than to calm himself down and begin reciting the names of the gods at random, all in one long breath. Eventually he spouted some gibberish and brought the Dance to a close.
     He accepted payment and headed home. On the way he ran into the Upright Duke, who was coming back from his errands. He told his master everything he had said and done and begged for forgiveness. His master was greatly surprised. "When did you learn to do that?" He asked. "That's exactly how I do it."


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 39
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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6. 吃呆 Eating "Dumbos"
明•江盈科《雪涛谐史》 From Snowdrift's Humorous History
By Jiang Yingke, Ming Dynasty (1638-1644)


     A man ate some olives and really loved them, but he didn't know their name, so he took a bunch and asked someone, "What are these?"
     The fellow decided to play a trick on the man and told him "They're called 'dumbos'."
     When the man got home he excitedly told his wife, "I ate some dumbos today. The flavor was really exceptional. They're my favorite food."
     His wife felt perplexed and asked him to get some for her to see.
     The man looked through his bag but couldn't find any. He sighed and told her, stupidly, "There really was a dumbo!"


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 28
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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7. 嘲客久住不去 Laughing at a Guest who Refuses to Leave
宋·陈元靓《事林广记》 From Recollections on Numerous Things By Chen Yuanjing, Song Dynasty (960-1279)


     There once was a man who had been living in his father-in-law's house for a long time, but was still not willing to leave. His father-in-law was quite angry and wanted to kick him out, but his daughter refused to go.
     One day the father-in-law said, "I'm really glad you've come here from so far away, but my chickens and ducks have all been eaten and I no longer have the means to accommodate you. Please don't find fault with me."
     What he meant to do was get his son-in-law to leave as soon as possible, but the younger man replied, "Don't worry Dad. On the way here I saw a herd of fat deer up on the mountain. We can go hunting and bring one back and roast it. We should be able to eat off it for several days."
     "There was a herd of deer on the mountain when you came," the father-in-law said, "but it's been over a month now. They must be gone already."
     "There's a lot of good eating on that mountain, so I think they wouldn't have wanted to leave," said the son-in-law.


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 26
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen, Principal Editor
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8. Foreign Farts
清·吴趼人《俏皮话》 From Sassy Words
by Wu Jianren, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


     Foreign ships had been coming to our shores ever since the people living by the sea had started trading with them, stirring up ever more tempestuous waves along the coast. The Dragon King could get no peace in his palace, so he decided to send a delegate to negotiate with the foreigners, to seek a return to tranquility for the shore dwellers.
     He thereupon went into his throne room and asked who amongst his advisors could take on such a commission. Tortoise volunteered to accept the responsibility. The Dragon King was pleased and immediately appointed Tortoise to be his emissary.
     Tortoise set forth on his commission and, while on the way, happened upon a foreign merchant ship. He wanted to get on the ship to explain his mission and was disappointed when he could find no way to board.
     He circled the boat several times looking for an entry. Suddenly, as he was treading water, a burst of hot air came out of the ship's stern and sprayed straightaway on Tortoise. Tortoise was startled and quickly retreated back to the palace.
     When the Dragon King asked him how his mission had turned out, Tortoise kowtowed and said, "There was really nothing I could do! Please send someone better than me."
     The Dragon King asked him to explain why he had returned, and Tortoise told the whole story. "You recommended yourself for the mission," the Dragon King shouted, "and said you would negotiate with them. So how is it that you get scared and come back just because one of the foreigners farted?"


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 97
上海普及科学出版社S hanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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9. Henpecked
明·江盈科《雪涛谐史》 From Humorous History of Snowdrifts
by Jiang Yingke, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)


     A man greatly feared his wife. One time he got her mad at him again without knowing what he had done. His wife wanted to use a zan* to squeeze his fingers.
     "We don't have a zan in our house," the husband said, so his wife told him to go next door to borrow one.
     The husband cursed his wife under his breath as he walked out the door. The wife heard him muttering something and shouted at him to come back inside.
     "What did you say just now?" she demanded.
     "I said, it's an implement of torture, so we really should make one for our own use."
*A device consisting of a rope and five small pieces of wood, used in ancient times to torture people by squeezing their fingers.


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 96
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012,
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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10. 不知酒为何物 He Didn't Know What Booze Was
清•小石道人《嘻谈录》 From Tee-Hee Talks by Little Stone Daoist, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


     A gentleman who owned a bookstore loved his booze like his own life, but as luck would have it, his apprentice was also quite fond of the sauce. Since the apprentice was always stealing his booze, the gentleman announced that that he was going to get a new one, one who didn't drink. A friend recommended a servant of his for the job.
     The gentleman pointed to some yellow rice wine and asked the servant what it was. "It's Old Shaoxing Wine", the man said.
     The gentleman was amazed. "He even knows the brand name! He's got to be a drinker!" So he sent the man away.
     Before long, the friend recommended another of his servants. Once again, the gentleman pointed to the yellow rice wine and asked what it was. "It's yellow diao wine," the servant answered.
     "He even knows the excellent ingredients in the wine," the gentleman exclaimed. "He's got to be a drinker. I can't use him."
     The friend recommended another of his servants after a few more days had passed. When the owner brought out the yellow rice wine and asked about it, the servant said he didn't recognize the stuff. When the owner brought out some corn liquor, he said he didn't know that stuff, either. The gentleman was very happy because he thought the guy couldn't be a drinker, so he hired him.
     One day the gentleman wanted to go out, so he left the servant in charge of the shop. He repeatedly ordered the guy to watch the ham hanging on the wall and the fat chicken in the courtyard very carefully, and stridently warned him not to touch the two bottles in the room. If he should drink the contents of those bottles, his insides would burst and he would die instantly.
     Without delay, as soon as the gentleman was gone, the servant butchered the chicken, roasted the ham and dug into the repast; and he made a point of bringing out those two bottles of corn liquor and drinking one gulp after another. Before he knew what was happening, he was drunk as a skunk, laying paralyzed on the floor, fast asleep.
     When the gentleman returned and saw the scene in his shop, he immediately blew his stack. He kicked the servant several times to wake him up.
     The servant pretended to feel very wronged. "When you left," he said, "I watched over the shop with the greatest of care. Suddenly a cat ran off with the chicken in its mouth, and a dog came and snatched away the ham. I was scared and wanted to die, so I got out those two bottles of yours and drank whatever was in them. Now I'm so dizzy, laying here half dead, fighting for my life!"


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 22
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen, Principal Editor
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11. 嘲鼠食不知足 Mocking A Mouse
For Not Knowing When to Stop Drinking


宋•陈元靓《事林广记》 From Recollections on Numerous Things by Chen Yuanjing, Song Dynasty (960-1279)
     A distiller brewed a large number of jars of rice wine and put them, one after the other, in a room together. Before long one of the jars proved defective. All of the wine in it leaked out. The distiller didn't realize the jar was defective and thought the wine had been stolen.
     One day he happened to notice a pack of mice chattering in the rafters in that room. He thought it was them that had stolen the wine. "Damn things," he cursed. "You've stolen my booze, and you still have the gall to come back here looking for something to eat!"
     As luck would have it, one night one of the mice fell in a jar and drowned, and the distiller seized the opportunity to make a point. "Damn mouse," he said. "Now you know that my wine will really get you dead drunk."


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 27
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen, Principal Editor
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12. The North is Cold, The South Hot
From Tee-Hee Talks by Little Stone Daoist, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


     A northerner and a southerner, both famous raconteurs, admired each other and hoped to meet to have a conversation. They accordingly felt it was propitious when, without prior arrangement, they happened to meet on the road as they were going somewhere for a visit.
     They began by discussing the temperature. "I hear it's extremely cold where you're from", the southerner said. "Exactly how cold does it get?"
     "When it starts getting cold up where we are", the northerner boasted, "if you take a leak, your piss will instantly turn into an icicle, so you have to carry a stick with you to strike the piss with while you're going. Otherwise the piss won't come out. And if you go to a bathhouse for a bath in the winter, you'll get frozen in the pool."
     The southerner didn't believe it, so he followed up with, "And where's the bathhouse owner while people are freezing?"
     The northerner furrowed his brow. "I've never noticed the bathhouse owner", he said, "only the frozen people in the pool."
     The southerner still only half believed, so the northerner answered him with a question of his own. "I've heard it's especially hot where you live. How hot does it get?"
     The southerner started talking and the words flowed forth: "When it gets hot down where we are, you can break an egg on the top of a wall and it'll be completely fried in a jiffy. And if someone kills a pig on the street in the summer, you'll have roast pork before you've walked very far."
     The northerner was floored. "If the pig gets roasted," he asked, "what about the guy who was herding it?"
     Smugly, the southerner made up a poem:

                   "The pig is cooked,
                   "The question's moot!
                   "The guy that led him's
                   "Been reduced to soot."


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 12
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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13. 吃糠 Eating Chaff
明·冯梦龙《笑府》 By Feng Menglong, Palace of Smiles, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)


     There once was a lazy fellow whose family, while extremely poor, was also very proud.
     One day he went out after eating coarse grain for breakfast and encountered some officials on a boat. They were having a meal and invited him to join them.
     "I just ate some dog meat for breakfast," the lazy man said. "I ate too much, but if you have some rice wine to drink, I'll be OK."
     The officials offered him some wine, not expecting that he would throw up after two glasses. They noticed that all he'd brought up was coarse grain, and asked, "You said you had dog meat for breakfast, so how come you regurgitated nothing but chaff?"
     The lazy fellow looked at them askance and it was a long time before he answered. "I really did eat dog meat. I think, that dog must have been eating chaff!"


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 29
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen Principal Editor
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14. Unfortunate Words
清·游戏主人《笑林广记》 From A Compilation of Jokes by Traveling Showman, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)


[My previous rendition of this joke suffered from one of the most serious mistakes a translator can make: I forgot to turn the page and left out most of the text – Fannyi​]


     There was a fellow who was always saying ominous things. Among his neighbors was a well-to-do man who was building a hall.
     One day, when the work on the hall had just been completed, the fellow went over to check it out. The neighbor was afraid he was going to say something inauspicious, so, although the fellow knocked on the door for quite some time, the man wouldn't open it to let him in.
     The fellow stood angrily outside the door and cursed, "Your son of a bitch door is shut so tight, everyone inside must be dead!"
     The rich man heard this from inside his courtyard and blew his top. He opened his door and chewed the fellow out. "My family spent a thousand pieces of gold to build this new building! You think that was easy for us? Now you come along and say such things! You don't have a shred of human decency!"
     But the fellow argued with him. "If you were going to sell this building, you'd get at most five hundred gold pieces for it, no more. How could you have the nerve to ask for a price as high as a thousand pieces?"
     This made the rich man mad. "I never said I was going to sell it," he replied. "What gives you the right to calculate a price?"
     The fellow was getting mad, too. "I was doing you a favor when I suggested you sell it," he said. "If the place burns down, it won't be worth a fart!"

     There was another man whose wife gave him his first son when he was fifty years old. He was in complete ecstasy. His friends and relatives came over to congratulate him, and that fellow decided to join in the fun.
     A friend advised him, "You always say unlucky things, and I think it would be better if you didn't go. [But if you must]," the friend implored, "I'll go with you. After we get there, don't say anything at all, if that's OK."
     When they arrived, the fellow didn't say anything from the formal kowtows at the door through the congratulatory banquet. Only when they were leaving did he offer a word of thanks to the host: "I didn't say any unlucky words at all today. If your son dies after I leave, it'll have nothing to do with me!"


 中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 17
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen, Principal Editor
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15. 不知妻子是何人 He Didn't Know His Own Wife
隋•侯白《启颜录》 From A Collection of Humorous Stories By Hou Bai, Sui Dynasty (581-618)


     There was a farmer in Eh County who was especially prone to forget things. One day he took his ax to the mountain to cut some firewood, and his wife went along with him. When they got to the mountain the farmer felt an urgent need to relieve himself, so he hurriedly turned aside and went off to the side of the trail. He laid his ax down on the ground without thinking.
     When he was through, the farmer noticed the ax laying on the ground. "I've found an ax," he exclaimed happily. He started jumping for joy and, as a consequence, stepped right where he had just defecated. At that he exclaimed with sudden enlightenment, "Ah ha, some dummy took a dump here and forgot his ax." 
     When his wife saw how forgetful he was, she said earnestly, "It was you. You brought the ax up here just now to cut firewood, but because you had to go to the bathroom, you laid it on the ground and forgot about it. How come you can't remember anything? How could you forget so fast?"
     As the farmer listened, he looked at his wife as though he were completely mystified. He examined her face closely, then said in surprise, "What's your name, ma'am? I seem to have seen you somewhere, but right now I can't think where it was."


中国古代笑话 Reprinted in Jokes from Ancient China, p. 23
上海普及科学出版社 Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012
统筹:刘湘雯 Liu Xiangwen, Principal Editor




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9.   Henpecked
10. Ignorant Apprentice
11. Mocking a Mouse

12. North vs. South
13. Poor but Proud
14. Unfortunate Words
15. Unrecognized Wife


5. Duke's Disciple, The
6.   Eating Dumbos
7.   Exactly the Point
8.   Foreign Farts

We translated these jokes into English from modern Chinese translations of texts written in the classical language.

1. Balanced Business
2. Boozer, The
3. Brother Gives Birth
4. Can't Show His Face

​​         Chinese Stories in English