​​         Chinese Stories in English   

English translations of modern Chinese versions of jokes originally written in the classical language.

The modern Chinese versions are printed (at the page numbers cited in our translations) in:


Jokes from Ancient China, Shanghai Popular Science Press, 2012, Liu Xiangwen, Principal Editor

Available as an E-book at : http://cread.e.jd.com/read/startRead.action?bookId=30117759&readType=1

Chinese text also available here.

1. Suffering Punishment for Another
清•石成金《笑得好》From Laughing Well by Stones to Gold, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

      A criminal knew of an idiot in a certain place, so he took 200 ounces of silver and sought the guy out.
     "I'll give you this silver and you can buy tons of beautiful clothing," he said, conning the idiot, "and lots of good things to eat as well. Your wife and all your family, young and old, will be able to enjoy your good fortune.
     "Here's the thing. In a few days investigators will come looking for someone. You just have to be tied up by them, but they'll send you home before long. At that time the silver will be yours and you won't have to give it back to me. I'll consider it your reward for helping me."
     When he saw the glittering silver, the idiot agreed to do it.
     One of his neighbors was a kind-hearted old fellow. When he heard about this, he came over and urged the idiot not to do it. "Give that man his silver back right away," he advised. "If you use the silver like he said, you'll be giving your life away for him! And then what good would the silver do you, even if you had ten thousand ounces?"
     That made the idiot very unhappy. "You can't fool me," he said, shaking his head. "I'd really be a dolt if I believed your lies and was in a hurry to give all this glittering silver back to that man."
     The old fellow could do nothing but shake his head and walk away. 
     Before long, a government edict came down and was read aloud to the public. When the criminal's name was called out, the idiot answered for him. As a result he was taken to the Office of Punishments for judgment and then rushed immediately to the execution grounds.
     The idiot's friends and relatives crowded around and complained that he shouldn't lose his life just for being greedy. "It's my own fault that I ended up here," the idiot said, crying bitterly, "because I didn't listen to you. But the good thing is I've got it all figured out now, and this is the last time I'll ever fall for such a trick." (p. 35)

2. Big Belly Packs In the Ghosts
清•游戏主人《笑林广记》 From A Compilation of Jokes
By Traveling Showman, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

     Jade Emperor, the Lord of Heaven, ordered Zhong Kui, the Exorcist, to go to the realm of mortals and capture a ghost. Accompanied by his ghost soldiers, and clutching his ghost-catching Treasured Sword in his hand, Zhong Kui came into this world. He hadn't expected the ghosts here to be so numerous and so fierce.
     When they saw Zhong Kui coming for them, Hot-Headed Ghost rushed forward and grabbed Treasured Sword; Clever Ghost came up and climbed on Zhong Kui's thighs and back; Clingy Child Ghost stole his shoes and hat; Lascivious Ghost kept pulling open his robe; Sex Ghost came up and grabbed Zhong Kui with one hand, bringing him to a halt; Mischievous Ghost jumped up, tweaked his nose and dug at his eyes; Fermented Face Ghost kept nattering away; and a crowd of ghosts jumped on Zhong Kui's body, making him unable to do anything.
     Right when Zhong Kui was completely immobilized, an enormously fat monk came walking over and giggled. Then he opened his mouth wide and, "swoosh", sucked all the ghosts into his belly.
     "Sir," Zhong Kui said, amazed at what he'd seen, "you have tremendously vast magical powers!" 
     "And you, my honorable General Who Conquers Demons," the monk replied, "didn't realize that those were the most common sort of evil spirits in the world. There's no use in your trying to reason with them. They have no human feelings to speak of. Just pack them away in a big belly and be done with them!" (p. 33)

3. Blind is Better
明•赵南星《笑赞》From In Praise of Humor by Zhao Nanxing, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

     Two blind men were having a discussion as they walked down the street. "The blind are the best people on earth," one said. "The sighted are always busy, running here and there. Especially the farmers. Who in the world is as carefree as we are?"
     Several farmers walking along the street happened to overhear. They pretended to be officials and ran up shouting. They complained that the blind men were criminals for not knowing enough to yield the road to officials. They beat the blind men wildly with their hoes and rakes before backing away, still shouting.
     The two blind men picked themselves up off the ground and continued down the street, limping. The farmers followed silently, wanting to hear what they might say.
     After they'd walked a few steps, one of the blind men consoled the other. "Bottom line, blind people still have it better," he said in a self-congratulatory tone of voice. "If something like this had happened to sighted people, they would not only have been beaten, they would also have been accused of a crime for not yielding way to the officials!" (p. 115)

4. Eating Wind and Wearing Leaves
清•石成金《笑得好》From Laughing Well by Stones to Gold, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

     A certain rich family had a clever and resourceful maidservant in her early teens. The lady of the house was by nature exacting and miserly. She didn't even guarantee the girl three meals a day, so the maidservant often went hungry, with only her pride to swallow. 
     One day, when the maidservant was in a place with no one else around, she turned toward the west wind, opened her mouth wide, and began gulping air into her stomach. It happened that her actions were observed by the lady, who thought they were just too extraordinary. When she asked for an explanation, the girl responded, with a pained expression, "I'm often hungry, so I'm trying to learn how to drink the west wind. If I can do that, I won't ever have to eat and can devote myself to serving my masters."
     The lady was very pleased. "You really ought to concentrate on learning how to do that," she urged the girl, patting her boney shoulder, "so you can save us food and make a contribution to the household. Also, go to the back garden in a while and use a needle and thread to sew those dried leaves into clothing. I feel you are very loyal, so I'll give you the clothing to wear. Since you're not eating our food, the neighbors would say I was callous if I didn't even provide you with new clothes." (p. 30)
​[Fannyi's note: In the original text in classical Chinese (available at
http://ctext.org/wiki.pl?if=en&chapter=241541) the lady says she herself will use leaves to sew some clothing for the girl. The modern Chinese translation reads as above.]

5. Seventh Grade
清•游戏主人《笑林广记》From A Compilation of Jokes
By Traveling Showman, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

     In the old days, test results in school were divided into six grades. A grade of three was considered substandard and the student would be beaten with a cane. A grade of six was the worst; the student's name would be stricken from the roll and he'd be expelled from school.
     One student who had scored a six on his test was mortally ashamed. He was also worried that his wife would scold him, so he told her a lie. "There used to be only six grades in the master's test. Now we've got this stupid new administrator. He's really hard-nosed. Believe it or not, he's added another grade. Isn't that a pain?"
     "What's the punishment for a grade seven?" his wife asked.
     "For a six, you just get your name stricken from the roll and that's it," the student replied. "But for a seven, believe it or not, you get castrated!"
     His wife was shocked and hurried to ask, "So what grade did you get?"
     "Luckily I made a good showing. I got a six, so I didn't get castrated." (p. 100)

6. An Idiot Reveals His Mother's Ugliness
清•石成金《笑得好》 From Laughing Well by Stones to Gold, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

     There was a woman who stole a goat from a neighboring family. Not only that, she hid it under her bed and ordered her son to never, ever say anything to anyone about her stealing it.
     Before long the neighbors discovered that the goat was gone and went walking along the street calling out for it. The woman's son came up to them and explained, "My mother really never stole your goat."
      Fearing that her idiot son had let the cat out of the bag, she gave him a stern look to tell him to stop talking. The idiot boy wasn't used to seeing his mother look like that. He pointed to her face and said, "Look at my mom's eyes. They look just like the eyes on that goat that's hidden under our bed." (p. 33)

7. Angered by a Mirror
明•浮白斋主人《笑林》From A Forest of Jokes
By Sodium-Free Diet Master, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

     A businessman was going to a foreign country on a trading trip. As he was about to leave, his wife told him emphatically to buy an ivory comb and bring it back for her. He asked her what style of comb, and she pointed out the crescent moon in the sky to show him. 
     When the businessman had finished buying merchandise in the foreign country, he suddenly remembered what his wife had said. He looked up into the sky and saw a full, round moon, so he bought a round mirror to take back to her.
     When he got home, his wife snatched up the mirror and looked into it. "You didn't even buy me an ivory comb," she yelled at him loudly. "How could you have bought a concubine to bring home?"
     His mother overheard and came over to calm things down. She happened to catch sight of the mirror and said in amazement, "Oh, son, why did you bring home my new daughter-in-law's mother, too?"
     Gossip about this matter reached the village government directly.
     When the officer who came for the businessman looked at the mirror, he became very agitated. "Why has another officer come here to get you", he exclaimed.
     Eventually the matter came to trial and the mirror was placed on the bench as evidence. The village magistrate was incensed when he looked at it. "This is a dispute between a husband and wife. Why have you brought a county magistrate in to mediate?" (p. 39)

8. Who's Really the Callous One?
清•陈皋谋《笑倒》 From Fall Down Laughing by Chen Gaomou, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

     A well-off man was given to doing random acts of kindness. Once when he saw someone standing in his doorway to get out of the snow, and shivering from the cold, he felt sympathetic and asked the fellow inside. He heated some wine and gave it to the man to stop his trembling, and even generously invited him to spend the night.
     The snow was falling just as hard the next day and it was impossible to get to the road, so the rich fellow asked the man to stay another night. And so it went for three days.
     The weather cleared on the fourth day. As the man was about to leave, he made a point of asking his host for a knife. When he got the knife, he started to flash it around. "We don't know each other at all, but I've enjoyed your kindness for several days," he said to the rich man. "But I have nothing with which to repay you. All I can do is repay you with my life!"
     At that, he made to use the knife to kill himself.
     The rich man was terrified at the sight. He rushed forward to stop the man, saying "If you kill yourself, it will really cause a lot of trouble for me!"
     "How so?"
     "If someone dies in my house, and not by natural causes, it's a sure thing that the government will come after me. I might even be held liable for twelve ounces of silver for burial expenses. So you really can't do this."
     And so the man stopped threatening to kill himself. "Well," he said, "you might as well give me the twelve ounces it would have cost you for burial expenses and let me be on my way."
     The rich man saw the guy's scam clearly. "So this is how my kindness is repaid," he thought to himself. That made him mad and he started to argue with the man.
     The commotion brought the neighbors, who crowded around to mediate. They tried as hard as they could to persuade the rich man to split the difference and give his guest six ounces of silver to end the matter.
     The rich man got madder and madder the more he thought about it. "Who would have thought I'd ever meet up with such a callous person?" he exclaimed.
     At that, the guest turned the tables and rebuked the rich man. "You call me callous and won't admit you're the callous one. I can't figure that out at all!"
     "Where do you get off saying I'm callous?" the rich man demanded.
     "If you weren't callous," the man replied reasonably, "why would you keep me here for three days but not pay two ounces per day for my company?" (p. 37)

9. Seventy-Three, Eighty-Four
明·冯梦龙《广笑府》From Palace of Broad Smiles
 By Feng Menglong, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

     Once a very stingy man invited a guest to a banquet. He secretly told his servant, "Absolutely do not waste any of the booze. Only refill his cup when you hear me tap the table."
     The guest happened to overhear him. While they were drinking, the guest made a point of asking, "May I inquire as to your honorable mother's age?"
     "Seventy-three," the host replied.
     "That's exceptional," the guest said, and slapped the table. The servant heard the sound and stepped forward to fill the guest's cup.
     A little later, the guest asked another question. "May I inquire as to your honorable father's age?"
     "Eighty-four," the host answered.
     "Even more exceptional," said the guest as he slapped the table again. Hearing the sound, the servant again stepped forward and filled the guest's cup.
     The host figured out that the guest had asked these questions on purpose, and slapped the table intentionally, so that the servant would come forward and refill his cup. "Forget about my parents' ages," he told the guest unhappily. "You've already drunk enough of my booze!" (p. 101)

10. A Slow Student Sells a Goat
隋·侯白《启颜录》 From A Collection of Humorous Stories
By Hou Bai, Sui Dynasty (581-618)

          During the Liang Dynasty [502-557] there was a student who was an exceptionally good talker, even though he wasn't too bright. One day someone gave him a pretty gazelle. He'd never seen one before and thought it was just a goat, so he tied a rope around its neck and led it to the market fair to sell. His asking price wasn't too high, but after several days he still hadn't sold it.
          Later some guys in the market, who knew that the student was dim-witted and slow, took his gazelle and left a macaque in its place. When he saw it, the student thought the macaque was his gazelle and just wondered why it had changed shape and didn't have horns any more.   He noticed that the macaque was jumping around nervously and figured that someone must have snuck up and sawed off its horns as a joke. He couldn't find any scars on the macaque's head, though, and without evidence, all he could do was stifle his indignation and forget about the matter.
          When the fair was over, the student led the macaque back toward his home. As he walked along leisurely and carefree, he murmured to himself, "I've got a strange little animal. It was fat in the morning but had become thin by evening. It used to smell nice but now it stinks. The horns on its head could disappear in a flash, and its face turned into a monkey's face in an instant." (p. 29)

11. Taking Advantage: Profit at Your Expense
先秦·《吕氏春秋》From Mr. Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals
Compiled by Lü Buwei around 239 BCE, State of Qin

      In the country of Soong, there was a man called Cheng Zi who had lost a black shirt. He was looking for it by the side of a road when he came across a woman who was wearing a black shirt. He grabbed hold of her and wouldn't let go, and demanded that she give him the shirt.
     "What I lost was a black shirt," he cried.
     The woman begged to differ. "My dear sir, while the shirt you lost may also have been black, the one I'm wearing is without a doubt my own!"
     "It'd be to your advantage to give the shirt to me right away," Cheng Zi said. "The one I lost was double-lined, but yours has no lining. I'm trading my double-lined shirt for your unlined one, and that's certainly not profiting at your expense, is it?" (p. 99)

12. Two-Hand "Poem"
清·小石道人《嘻谈录》From Tee-Hee Talks
By Little Stone Daoist, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

[This joke relies on a pun. In Mandarin, "two poems" and "two-hand poem" sound the same. – Fannyi
     There are numerous temples among the scenic spots and historic sites of West Lake. Almost all the Buddhist abbots in these temples are able to create poems to carry on a conversation. One of them, who was very talented and artistic, especially enjoyed creating poems. He spent most days in seclusion, refusing to receive visitors and reciting sutras all day long. He also had an arrangement with the monk who guarded the gate, that he would staunchly refuse to meet with anyone who was not a monk or a reciter of poetry.
     One day, late in the evening, a fellow who had lost his way came to the temple in the mountains looking for a place to stay. Brother Gatekeeper told him, "Our abbot won't see anyone who's not a poet. I don't dare let you in unless you can create poetry."
     "If I tell him I can't create poetry, he surely won't let me in," the lost fellow said to himself, wondering what to do. "The best thing right now is to pretend I can do poetry. Once I get in and settle down, that'll be that.
     So he told Brother Gatekeeper, "Not only can I create poetry, I'm a veteran of La-Yin Temple. I've come here today especially to call on your abbot."
     When Brother Gatekeeper heard that, he invited the guest into the vestibule right away and went to report to the abbot. The abbot was extremely happy when he received the report. "It's already late today," he said. "For the time being, invite our guest to rest and have something to eat. I'll come out there early in the morning and ask him what he wants."
     Brother Gatekeeper relayed the abbot's instructions to the visitor and prepared a meal for him. The guest was hungry and thirsty from his journey, so when he saw the food, he gulped it down in no time at all.
     Who could have known that he'd eat too much? He got a stomach ache in the middle of the night, so he got up to go to the bathroom. The main gate was closed and for the moment he couldn't open it. Compelled by urgency, he took a bowl-shaped copper bell from in front of the Buddha's statue, put it under a suit of armor and defecated in it. When he was through, he put the bell back on the altar.
     The guest's stomach hurt all night. When it started to get light outside, he was afraid of making a fool of himself in front of the abbot, so he hurriedly escaped through a window. Just as he was about to go through the gate to the mountains, he encountered Brother Gatekeeper, who asked, "Why do you want to escape? Is it possible that you can't create poetry?"
     "No, that's not it," the man dodged. "I've already finished two poems. Both of them have very much the flavor of the great Tang Dynasty. They're in the bowl-shaped bell."
     When Brother Gatekeeper learned that the man had already done some poems, he let him go and returned to the temple. Just then the abbot came over, so the gatekeeper reported to him. "The temple's guest has gone, but he left two draft poems in the bowl-shaped bell.
     The abbot went up to the altar and used his right hand to feel around inside the bell. Then he stuck his left hand in and felt around some more. Puzzled about why he couldn't find any poems, he muttered to himself, "One hand on the right, one hand on the left. So there's a 'two-hand poem' after all, but it sure does stink." (p. 78)

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4. Eating Wind
5. Grade Seven
6. Idiot Tells All

10. Slow Student's Goat
11. Taking Advantage
12. Two-Hand Poem

7. Mirror
8. Really Callous
9. Seventy-Three

1. Another's Punishment
2. Big Belly's Ghosts
3. Blind is Better