ReadSpeaker:
ListenLarger documents may require additional load time.
Humor and Religion: Humor and Religion in East Asian Contexts
Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. Vol. 6. 2nd ed. Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. p4205-4210. From U.S. History In Context.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning
Full Text: 
Page 4205

HUMOR AND RELIGION: HUMOR AND RELIGION IN EAST ASIAN CONTEXTS

An overview of humor and religion in East Asia is complicated by a number of factors. While the area is united by millennia of cultural exchange, exemplified by the spread of the Chinese writing system, it is also marked by sharp cultural and linguistic divides. East Asia has also been influenced by an Indian tradition, Buddhism, which both transformed and was transformed by the religions of the area. In addition, it is difficult to neatly separate religious traditions such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Shintō; though distinctions were made, there was a constant tendency to combine and blur traditions sometimes now thought of as distinct. What are today thought of as the major traditions have existed in complex relations with what have been variously styled as local, indigenous, or folk traditions.

INDIGENOUS CONCEPTS AND ORIENTATIONS

While the English word humor has been absorbed into and widely used in both Chinese and Japanese in the modern era, there is a long history of related or analogous indigenous concepts to be found throughout the languages of East Asia. Since there is, however, little in the way of systematic studies of such concepts, only the importance of exploring them further can be suggested here. In Chinese, one related term that was also made use of in Korea and Japan is huaji, combining hua (slippery) with ji (a bobbling motion), a word for ancient jesters, acrobats, jugglers, and entertainers. An integral part of ancient Chinese court and ritual life, huaji wore costumes asymmetrically half red and half black. These specialists were mad, or topsy-turvy, and by their frenzy threw the normal world out of its order. Comic jesters were deemed indispensable to the efforts of kings to mediate between heaven and earth. Both the Korean and Japanese languages are also replete with a number of terms and concepts related to humor.

In ancient China, a central locus for the development of humor in religion was the ritual cycle of offerings and performancesPage 4206  |  Top of Article for the ancestors and gods. As is documented by oracle bone inscriptions, it was hoped that the higher gods could be influenced by establishing smooth relations with the recently dead. Royal ritual life in early China was thus organized in great detail around the need to mollify the dead, with special efforts being made to please them with food and entertainment. Records from the Shang period (late second millennium BCE), show the existence of rituals to "entertain" the ancestors. As the writing system developed, it generated, as a means to express this notion, a system of interchangeable graphs and a network of concepts relating to the terms pray (celebrate, intone), pleasing, elder brother (who conducted ceremonies for ancestors), music, joy, sacred speech, and laughter. Laughter was thus implicated in a network of concepts for conceiving of the relations among people, ancestors, and gods.

In early Japan, a charter myth relating to the role of humor in religion is found in Kojiki. The myth narrates how the Sun goddess, Amaterasu, faced with the outrageous behavior of her brother Susano-o (who has sometimes been identified as a trickster), secludes herself in a cave and thus throws the heavenly realm into chaos and darkness. The other gods, however, devise a plan to lure Amaterasu from the cave by pretending another goddess is present. As part of the ruse, Ame no Uzume performs a dance on an overturned tub and exposes herself. Ame no Uzume's performance produces uproarious laughter on the part of the other gods. Not able to understand why the gods are laughing when she has hidden herself away, Amaterasu is told another goddess is present, and thus is lured out of the cave. The myth testifies to the efficacious power of laughter, as well as the gods' appreciation of humor. In the medieval Nō play Ema (The votive tablet), Amaterasu is even portrayed as wanting to reenact the myth so that she can enjoy the joke again. Ame no Uzume's performance is also often cited as the origin of kagura (ritual song and dance offered to the gods), rites of possession, and many traditional forms of theater and performance.

Though the issue has not been fully argued, some have suggested that the religions of East Asia are inherently more open to humor than the monotheistic religions of the West. There is probably a degree of truth in this argument. The gods of East Asia tend to be more human than those of the monotheistic traditions and not nearly as fastidious about sexual matters, one of the great sources of humor in human life.

CONFUCIANISM, DAOISM, AND BUDDHISM

Though the traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism have greatly influenced one another and often existed in symbiotic relation to one another, they nevertheless exhibit somewhat distinctive orientations to humor.

Confucianism

Neither Confucius nor Confucianism is particularly noted for humor. One should never underestimate, however, the continuous presence of puns, wordplay, sarcasm, and ridicule throughout the Chinese tradition. The works of the early ritualists, chroniclers, and philosophers were often invested with puns, wordplay, ambiguity, and amusing stories. In a text purporting to chronicle events of 574 BCE (Chronicles of Zuo, 17th year of Duke Cheng), Confucius is, for instance, recorded telling some jokes involving puns about foot amputation that may well have had deeper cosmological implications. Confucius is also depicted (Analects 17.4) laughing at an elaborate ritual held in a town of very modest importance, characterizing the villagers as "using a beef cleaver to cut a chicken!" When his students remonstrated, Confucius admits that he had only been joking.

As the body of early texts was canonized and made into the so-called Confucian classics, the Ru (Ritualist or Confucian) school more and more became an arbiter of cultural orthodoxy. With its emphasis on decorum, morality, and the proper use of language, and particularly in its role as state ideology, Confucianism has perhaps rightly been characterized as a dry religion. An early work on literature in the Confucian tradition, which was also of some influence in Japan, is Liu Xie's (465?–520?) Wenxin Diaolong (The literary mind and carving of dragons). The work expresses an ambivalent opinion of the value of humor, particularly in the way it undermines the clear and proper use of language. Perhaps inevitably, Confucianism also became a straight man for humor and ridicule. Ridicule of slavish imitators of Confucius or Confucians became a popular topic in Chinese jest books (Harbsmeier, 1990, p. 152).

Confucianism was sometimes even linked with moves to suppress humor. In the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries, Japan witnessed a boom in comic literature that illustrates how religion can be subject to satire and parody and how some religious orientations can oppose humor. Informed by Confucian notions of morality and decorum, the Tokugawa regime made frequent, and mostly futile, efforts to suppress the upsurge of comic and satirical literature that made fun of most aspects of Japanese social, political, and religious life. One early anonymous work was Hijiri yûkaku (The pleasure quarter of the sages), in which the Buddha, Confucius, and the Daoist sage Laozi congregate in Japan for the purpose of visiting an Osaka brothel run by the Tang poet Li Bo, with his colleague Bai Ju-i as an entertainer. While some political and religious authorities took offense at much of this satire, it is unclear whether the buddhas and gods were offended or not.

Daoism

Daoism has taken many forms throughout Chinese history, and the term is highly contested. As used here, it denotes primarily what has sometimes been referred to as philosophical Daoism, centered on the texts Laozi and Zhuangzi. While the first of these texts maintains a relative air of dignity and seriousness, Zhuangzi is marked by a more humorous orientation and makes considerable use of irony, paradox, and amusing stories. In its philosophical and literary forms, which advocated a radical relativism of opposites and distinctions, Daoism seems inherently open to a comicPage 4207  |  Top of Article and humorous perspective as a way of freeing oneself from the unnatural constraints imposed by society, the state, and an overly rational approach to the world. Daoism also shares with Buddhism a sense of the limits of language to describe reality, thus opening the way for ironic and humorous displays of the limits of language and concepts. Not a few scholars have argued that Daoism contributed much to the Chinese transformation of Buddhism, especially to the use and appreciation of humor in the Chan or Zen schools.

The Zhuangzi, of course, is a locus classicus for many hilarious images of human limitation that suggest the uselessness of usefulness, the usefulness of uselessness, the irrationality that undermines the very notion of rationality, and in general the possibility of liberation from all such categories. The famous tale of Zhuang Zhou dreaming he was a butterfly (and then on waking not knowing whether he had dreamed of being a butterfly or whether the butterfly was now dreaming of being him) is an amusing and humorous account of a basic human conundrum. The text also makes fun of a variety of human proclivities, such as the desire to better oneself: "A youth of Shouling in the state of Yan studied the proper way of walking in Handan, the capital of Zhao. He failed to learn the distinguished gait of Handan. Moreover he unlearned his original way of walking. So he came crawling back home on all fours" (Harbsmeier, 1989, p. 303).

The general Daoist orientation was also one factor making possible the appearance of a type of religious figure characterized by extreme eccentricity, drunkenness, or madness. Well-known examples of such eccentric figures are Liu Ling (221–300) and the other members of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove at the time of the transition from the Han dynasty to the Jin dynasty. Liu Ling, who often went around his house naked, is remembered for his retort to the objections of an offended guest: "The universe is my house, and this room is my trousers. What are you doing here inside my trousers?"(Welch, 1957, pp. 124–125)

Buddhist ambivalence

While Buddhism is frequently celebrated in the West for its appreciation of humor, the Buddhist attitude to humor has often been ambivalent. The Buddha himself questioned how any one could laugh given the suffering that marked the world. Early Buddhist scholastics debated whether the Buddha had ever laughed (it was decided that only the faintest of smiles had crossed his lips), and the precept concerning right speech was often interpreted as rejecting laughter and joking. Buddhists have nevertheless managed to develop at times a rich appreciation of humor.

The most celebrated aspect of the relation of Buddhism and humor is no doubt the use of humor in Chan, or Zen. In an overstatement of his case, D. T. Suzuki argued that Zen was the only religion to find room for laughter. In many respects, Zen schools took to a radical extreme the Buddhist teaching that the truth could not be fully conveyed in symbols, concepts, and words. Whether expressed in dialogues, kōans, tales, or behavior, humor became a pedagogical tool for teaching the limits and constraints of conventional teachings and concepts. Humor was, in short, a technique for ensuring that one did not take the finger pointing at the moon as the moon itself. Laughter was also often taken as a sign of enlightenment, as a mark of having realized the comic absurdity of attempting to apprehend the truth in rational distinctions, concepts, and categories. How humor might teach and how laughter is a sign of understanding is concisely communicated in a tale about the Chinese master Yangqi, who, when about to lecture his disciples on the path to enlightenment, simply said: "Ha! Ha! Ha! What's all this! Go to the back of the hall and have some tea!" (Blyth, 1959, p. 90)

Throughout East Asia, Chan/Zen teachers or figures, be they historical or legendary, often exhibited the behavior of clowns or fools. In China, the "foolish" figures Hanshan and Shide are well-known both in paintings and tales about them. In Japan, Zen figures such as Ikkyū, Ryōkan (whose name means "great fool"), and Hakuin were known not only for their foolishness but also as self-consciously embracing the role of fool. The Japanese Zen master Harada Sogaku (1871–1961) even elevated the Buddha himself to the status of fool. "My admonition, then: Be a Great Fool! You know, don't you, that there was a master [Ryōkan] who called himself just that? Now, a petty fool is nothing but a worldling, but a Great Fool is a Buddha. Śākyamuni and Amitābha are themselves Great Fools, are they not?" (Hyers, 1989, p. 43). The foolishness of Zen figures was directed not only at upsetting the common-sense assumptions of the day but also the rigidity of Buddhist and Zen teachings themselves.

LOCAL, INDIGENOUS, AND FOLK TRADITIONS

As has been suggested, what have sometimes been styled as "great traditions" were not only not easily separable but also existed in complex relations with what have sometimes been referred to as local, indigenous, or folk traditions in China, Korea, and Japan. Such traditions and practices embraced a variety of types of humor and were also subject to a variety of forms of control, suppression, and systematization as they were harnessed to the agendas of emerging kingdoms, imperial systems, and modern nation states. As part of these "civilizing" processes, local traditions were often regarded as "superstitions," and the humor they embraced was at times deemed inappropriate.

Whether motivated by the desire to celebrate auspicious occasions, restore harmony, or divine the future, the center of religious life throughout the indigenous religions of East Asia has been daily and periodic interaction among people, ancestors, and gods. Much of the humor related to religion throughout the area may be traced indeed to this ongoing interaction. In contrast to the gods of the monotheistic traditions, the gods and ancestors of the region seem more human in their engagement in and appreciation of a variety of types of humor. In addition, the coming together of people, ancestors, and gods often aims at the creation of a "happy atmosphere" (Chinese, xiqi) or "celebration" (Japanese iwai) inPage 4208  |  Top of Article which people, as well as gods and ancestors, are entertained. Given that all involved have an appreciation of humor, the coming together often involves a variety of humorous performances and interactions.

Divination in various forms has played a central role in ritual practices throughout East Asia. At present, Chinese divination activities continue on a daily basis both at home in front of the ancestors' shrine and publicly in temples. The most common articles for divination now are comma-shaped pieces of wood that are flat on one side and convex on the other. The inquirer must throw a pair of such blocks in such a way as to produce one up and the other down. If both land flat, the god has refused the request, but if both land rocking on the round side, the gods are "laughing." This is not an outright refusal; the inquirer continues. Humor has also played a role in divinatory practices in Japan. The Nō play Ema (The votive tablet) even presents the gods as making fun of people for wanting to divine the future when the gods have already pledged to bestow their blessings.

Ritual and festivals

Ritual life and festivals—be they Buddhist, Shintō, or, as was more often the case, a complex symbiosis of the two—have been marked by humor throughout Japanese history. Though there are solemn Buddhist and Shintō rituals, many ritual complexes contain humorous dimensions, the gods and buddhas of many shrines and temples enjoy humorous performances, and serious rituals often have a comic counterpart known as modoki. There is even a tradition of festivals devoted to laughter—warai matsuri, or laughing festivals—in which the central ritual act is laughing. As seen in a ritual held annually in May at the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, even shrines closely linked with Imperial Shintō (and thus more focused on maintaining an air of dignity and solemnity) are marked by laughter. Following rites of purification to commemorate the shrine's being entrusted with a sacred sword (one of the imperial regalia), the priests begin to laugh aloud and are soon joined in laughter by the crowds gathered there. Folklorists remain a bit uncertain, however, about just what everyone is laughing about.

Some of the ritual humor to be found throughout East Asia is of a sexual nature and is often linked with agriculture and fertility rituals. At a small festival in the mountains of Mikawa in Japan, the gods Ebisu and Daikoku appear. The latter must declare what he has brought with him, and the fun involves him producing, after some hesitation, a larger-than-life-size phallus. Yanagita Kunio (1875–1962), a pioneering scholar of folklore and humor in Japan, has noted that some female mountain deities seem to be amused by and partake in the laughter provoked by the display of a small dried fish. Furthermore, in China, occasions of festivity sometimes involve ribald humor such as in the Yangge (rice-sprout songs) performances at Chinese New Year or in the dances featuring masked figures in the Nuo rituals still held in peripheral areas of China or among minority groups. Ribald humor is also found throughout Korean folk songs. Efforts have often been made, it should be noted, to suppress or sanitize sexual humor. Under Mao Zedong, extensive attempts were made to recast Yangge dances into properly revolutionary terms. Throughout the Meiji period (1868–1912) in Japan, efforts were also made to suppress or tone down some of the more ribald aspects of ritual in an effort to nationalize and civilize some aspects of Shintō. Despite such efforts, at least traces of earlier practices continue.

Humor has a prominent role to play in the kut, the ritual conducted by mansin (shamans), that plays a central role in Korea's indigenous religion and aims at harmonizing the relations of gods, ancestors, and the living. The kut has been described as a "living and loud event with some mistakes, much skill, clumsy moments, copious wine, and considerable laughter" (Kendall, 1985, pp. 20–21). While various aspects of the interaction of gods, ancestors, shamans, and people in the kut can provoke laughter, there is one being in particular that the shaman can call upon and embody who frequently, if not inevitably, will add humor and levity to the interaction. This is Changbu, a female, clownlike figure linked with the spirits of actors, singers, and acrobats. In addition to offering advice, Changbu engages in making fun of people, particularly if they do not seem disposed to accept the advice the shaman has offered or have not sufficiently contributed money to support the proceedings. By engaging in actions such as tweaking the breasts of the recalcitrant, Changbu sometimes transgresses the boundaries of decorum in a way that causes consternation to some and provokes laughter in others. In a somewhat similar fashion, shamanistic rituals in Taiwan not infrequently involve similar comic behavior on the part of the gods and spirits evoked.

Korean tiger, Chinese Budai

In Korea, humor is also linked with the activities of the tiger, an important figure in myth and folklore who has sometimes been understood as a trickster figure. Like tricksters, the tiger appears in a variety of guises and roles; exhibits contradictory features (sometimes benevolently working for good, at others wreaking havoc); and frequently plays tricks, many of which backfire on him or her. In addition to serving as the messenger and companion of the mountain god, tigers have also served as guides and aids of shamans. In many tales, tigers are identified as Horangi (young boy tiger), a name suggestive of such tigers' playfulness and mischievousness. It is a bit difficult to determine whether all of these tigers are the same tiger or whether there are different types of tigers. When appearing in his more malevolent form, the tiger's tricks and plans often backfire, and he becomes an object of laughter. When appearing as a more benevolent figure, the tiger often serves to reveal the foolishness of people's actions and preoccupations. Images of the tiger are also common in the visual arts. A common folk painting of Horangi, believed to be capable of repelling evil or bad fortune, often depicts the tiger in humorous fashion as smiling, sometimes almost idiotically.

An important humorous figure in East Asia who illustrates the difficulties of discussing religion in terms of discrete schools and traditions is the Chinese figure Budai (Japanese,Page 4209  |  Top of Article Hotei), who is sometimes referred to as the Laughing Buddha and whose legends, at least by some accounts, are based on the life of a Chinese monk of the Tang dynasty (618–907). The name Budai means "sackcloth" and was supposedly given to the monk because of his habit of carrying his meager worldly possessions in a sackcloth over his shoulder. In sculpture and painting, Budai is portrayed as a jolly, fat monk with his large stomach protruding from his disheveled robes. One of his major activities seems to have been playing with children. Budai also came to be regarded as an incarnation of the future buddha Maitreya, both popularly and by some schools of Zen that sometimes enshrine images of Budai as Maitreya. In China, Budai as Maitreya appears as a masked laughing man dancing with dragon dancers at festive occasions such as New Years. In Japan, Hotei appears as one of the Seven Gods of Fortune (shichifukujin) and is the patron deity of fortune-tellers and liquor merchants. His sack of material goods now inexhaustible, Hotei is also regarded as a source of material blessings.

HUMOR, RELIGION, AND THE ARTS

Another vast area providing evidence of the links between humor and religion is to be found in the rich traditions of visual art, literature, folk tales, theater, and a range of performing arts, including song, dance, music, and storytelling, found throughout East Asia. The origins of many of these art forms are traced to the activities of the gods, cultural heroes, and various types of holy personages. In addition, all of these art forms have at one time or another been offered at shrines, temples, and other places for the entertainment of the gods. It is not unusual for art forms such as sculpture, song and dance, or theater to be conceived as vehicles for rendering the gods present in this world. Comic, humorous, and ribald elements are not at all rare in these art forms.

Throughout the region, temples and shrines often contain a stage or area set aside for the performance of rituals, plays, dances, and a variety of other performing arts. Such performances have pleased the gods throughout history and frequently contain humorous elements. At Takachiho in Kyushu, as well as other places throughout Japan, performances offered as entertainment for the gods depict an old couple attempting to have sex with somewhat hilarious results. In contemporary Taiwan, some temples are equipped with a television appropriately placed so that the gods may view it without impediment.

Various forms of theater and performance throughout the area also make extensive use of humor and satire in relation to religion. The Japanese Gigaku (Korean, Giak) is a form of Buddhist masked drama originating in China and transmitted from Korea to Japan in the seventh century. A fourteenth-century Japanese text describes the masked performance as containing comic scenes making fun of the evils of drunkenness and lewd behavior. Traditional forms of theater, however, also make fun of religious figures and, at times, even the gods themselves. The traditional Korean masked dance play Sandae (some of whose roots may perhaps be found in Giak) incorporates Buddhist and shamanistic music and frequently holds up Buddhist monks and members of the literati for ridicule. In the comic Japanese Kyōgen theater, monks and other religious figures are often the object of humor, and the gods themselves are often portrayed in comic fashion. In the play Asaina, Enma—the god of the underworld—lets a hunter off lightly for the crime of killing animals when the hunter introduces the god to the delights of eating roasted meat. The humor directed at religion in these plays, however, cannot be simply taken as a rejection of religion. As suggested above, such plays were not infrequently understood as being performed for the entertainment of the gods.

The literary traditions of East Asia are also replete with stories, novels, tales, poems, and songs in which humor and religion are entwined in every conceivable way. A single example must suffice here: Xiyouji, translated as The Journey to the West, one of the most celebrated of Chinese works of literature. The work narrates the journey of the monk Tang Sanzang, aided by Sun Wukong, or Monkey, to India for Buddhist scriptures to bring back to China. The tale might be regarded as a comedy and contains numerous humorous episodes. Towards the beginning of the tale, the Buddha agrees to confer divine status on Monkey if he is able to jump over the Buddha's hand, but to make him do penance if he fails. Having acquired magical powers and believing himself up to the task, Monkey thinks the Buddha a fool and accepts the proposition. Jumping to what seems the outer edge of the cosmos, Monkey writes his name on five pillars he finds there to mark his achievement. For good measure, he also pisses on one before leaving. When Monkey returns to where the Buddha is waiting, the Buddha holds up one hand with Monkey's name written on each finger and with one finger stained yellow.

As suggested, the visual arts throughout the region also include many works linking humor and religion. A well-known subject in painting is the Three Doctrines, which portrays the Buddha, Confucius, and Laozi together as away of symbolizing the unity of the three religions (though it has been noted that some of the paintings do attempt to subtly suggest the superiority of one of the three). At least in a number of the paintings, such as that by the early-fifteenth-century Japanese painter Josetsu, there is a general comic air, and the Buddha and Laozi are depicted as smiling in such a way as to suggest that they are either chuckling or about to chuckle. Confucius, it must be admitted, looks a bit somber. There is the suggestion, however, that a degree of mirth is involved in the coming together and recognition of the unity of the three religions.

SEE ALSO

BIBLIOGRAPHY

There are no general overviews of humor and religion in East Asia, and few books and essays even centered on more discrete aspects of the topic. Though not focusing on religion, a numberPage 4210  |  Top of Article of popular books on humor in East Asia have appeared throughout the twentieth century. Some of these works are still capable of providing inspiration. A classic, popular work of this sort is R. H. Blyth's Oriental Humor (Tokyo, 1959), a work that covers China, Korea, and Japan and touches frequently on religion. Reference here might also be made to George Kao, ed., Chinese Wit and Humor (New York, 1974), an anthology of Chinese humor giving considerable place to the humor to be found in the Chinese classics. In many respects, the work of scholars has yet to appreciate and develop the insight about the importance of humor in culture and religion to be found in such works.

A useful starting point for exploring more scholarly discussions of the topic is Philosophy East and West 39, no. 3 (1989), an issue of the journal devoted to the role of humor in Asian thought. Particularly useful for placing the topic in comparative perspective is John Morreall's "The Rejection of Humor in Western Thought," pp. 243–266, which suggests how certain philosophical assumptions have led many Western scholars to downplay the importance of humor. Morreall's Comedy, Tragedy, and Religion (Albany, N.Y., 1999) contains a chapter devoted to Asian religions that, like his article, attempts to put the issues in comparative perspective.

There are a number of valuable discussions of the place of humor in Chinese religious thought and philosophy. Among the articles included in the issue of Philosophy East and West cited above are Christopher Harbsmeier, "Humor in Ancient Chinese Philosophy," pp. 243–266, and Joel J. Kupperman, "Chuang Tzu's Strategies of Communication," pp. 289–311. Harbsmeier's "Confucius Ridens: Humor in Ancient Chinese Philosophy," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 50 (1990): 136–161, and David R. Knechtges's "Wit, Humor, and Satire in Early Chinese Literature (to A.D. 220)," Monumenta Serica 29 (1971): 79–98, also provide valuable contributions to the topic. Humor in relation to Chan/Zen is treated at length in Conrad Hyers's The Laughing Buddha: Zen and the Comic Spirit (Wolfeboro, N.H., 1989).

Karin Myhre's "Wit and Humor," in The Columbia History of Chinese Literature, edited by Victor H. Mair (New York, 2001), pp. 132–138, is a valuable discussion of Chinese notions of humor, with some reference to religion. Victor H. Mair and Maxine Belmont Weinstein's "Popular Literature: Part I: Folk Literature," in The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, edited by William H. Nienhauser (Bloomington, Ind., 1986), pp. 75–81, provides an orientation to the place of joke books and folk humor in Chinese literature. Both of these volumes also contain a number of relevant articles and bibliographies. A study of humor in Chinese art and literature that also touches on religion throughout is Henry W. Wells's Traditional Chinese Humor: A Study in Art and Literature (Bloomington, Ind., 1971). Hu Pi-ching's "Feng Meng-lung's Treasury of Laughs: Humorous Satire in 17th Century Chinese Culture and Society," Journal of Asian Studies 57 (1998): 1042–1048, provides a good introduction to the some of the vast body of satirical literature in China that includes satires of religion.

Though Korean culture is rich in humor, there are few English language discussions of the topic, particularly in relation to religion. The following works, however, provide at least some entry to the roles humor plays in Korean religions: Edward R. Canda, "The Korean Tiger: Trickster and Servant of the Sacred," Korea Journal 21, no. 11 (1981): 22–38; Suk-kee Yoh, "Farcical Elements in Korean Mask Plays," in Humor in Korean Literature, edited by Chun Shin-yong (Seoul, 1977); and Young-pil Kwon, "Humor: An Aesthetic Value in Korean Art, Especially as Expressed in Scholarly Painting," Korea Journal 37, no. 1 (1997): 68–80. Laurel Kendall's, Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life (Honolulu, 1985) provides some discussion of Changbu.

For Japan, an overview of the history of concepts of humor, with some reference to religion, is offered in Marguerite Wells, Japanese Humor (New York, 1997). In addition to providing an overview of humor in Japan, Howard Hibbett's The Chrysanthemum and the Fish: Japanese Humor since the Age of the Shoguns (Tokyo, 2002) presents a detailed survey and analysis of the voluminous satiric literature of the Edo period, much of which was related to religion. Arthur H. Thornhill III's Six Circles, One Dewdrop: The Religio-Aesthetic World of Komparu Zenchiku (Princeton, N.J., 1993) contains an excellent discussion of the myth of the heavenly cave and later interpretations of the myth in Japan.

For humor in the performing arts, the religious themes appearing in the comic art of rakugo are discussed in Heinz Morioka and Miyoko Sasaki, Rakugo: The Popular Narrative Art of Japan (Cambridge, Mass., 1990), and the religious themes in Kyōgen are considered in Carolyn Anne Morley, Transformation, Miracles, and Mischief: The Mountain Priest Plays of Kyōgen (Ithaca, N.Y., 1993). Discussions of humor and religion relating to folk religion can be found in Fanny Hagin Mayer, "Japanese Folk Humor," Asian Folklore Studies 41, no. 2 (1982): 187–200; Shuhei Kikkawa, "The Function of Laughter in Japanese Religious Ritual," Tokushima Bunri Daigaku Hikaku Bunka Kenkyujō Nenpō 10 (1994): 29–44; and Goh Abe, "A Ritual Performance of Laughter in Southern Japan," Australian Journal of Comedy 7, no. 2 (2001): 16–24. A discussion of the role of parody, satire, and humor in response to Aum Shinrikyō can be found in Richard A. Gardner, "'The Blessing of Living in a Country Where There Are Senryū!': Humor in the Response to Aum Shinrikyō," Asian Folklore Studies 61, no. 1 (2002): 35–75.

RICHARD A. GARDNER (2005)

SCOTT DAVIS (2005)

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition) 
Gardner, Richard A., and Scott Davis. "Humor and Religion: Humor and Religion in East Asian Contexts." Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed., vol. 6, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, pp. 4205-4210. U.S. History in Context, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX3424501420%2FGPS%3Fu%3Drich82127%26sid%3DGPS%26xid%3Dcdf268b4. Accessed 17 June 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3424501420

View other articles linked to these index terms:

Page locators that refer to this article are not hyper-linked.

  • Amaterasu Ōmikami (deity),
    • humor in myth of,
      • 6: 4206
  • Ame no Uzume (deity)
    • humor and,
      • 6: 4206
  • Ancestors and ancestor worship,
    • in Chinese religion,
      • entertainment of the dead,
        • 6: 4206
  • Art,
    • humor in, in East Asia,
      • 6: 4209
  • Budai (Laughing Buddha)
    • humor and,
      • 6: 4208-4209
    • as Maitreya,
      • 6: 4209
  • Buddhism,
  • Chan Buddhism,
  • Changbu (spirit), humor and,
    • 6: 4208
  • Chinese Buddhism,
    • Monkey and Buddha narrative,
      • 6: 4209
  • Confucianism,
  • Confucius (Kongzi),
    • jokes by,
      • 6: 4206
  • Daikoku (deity),
    • humorous myth of,
      • 6: 4208
  • Dance,
    • in Chinese religion,
      • Yangge dances,
        • 6: 4208
  • Daoism,
    • humor in,
      • 6: 4206-4207
  • Divination,
    • in Chinese religion
      • popular, contemporary practice with wood blocks,
        • 6: 4208
  • Drama,
    • humor in, in East Asia,
      • 6: 4209
  • Folk religion,
    • East Asian, humor in,
      • 6: 4207-4209
  • Fools.
    • in Chan/Zen Buddhism,
      • 6: 4207
  • Gigaku (dance drama),
    • humor and,
      • 6: 4209
  • Hotei (Laughing Buddha), humor and,
    • 6: 4208-4209
  • Huaji (Chinese concept), acrobats and jesters as,
    • 6: 4205
  • Humor,
    • arts and,
      • 6: 4209
    • in Buddhism,
    • in Daoism,
      • 6: 4206-4207
    • in divinatory practices, East Asian,
      • 6: 4208
    • in East Asian contexts,
      • 6: 4205-4210
  • Irrationality, in Daoism, humor and,
    • 6: 4207
  • Japan and Japanese religions,
    • drama in,
      • humor and,
        • 6: 4209
    • rituals in
      • serious and comic modes of,
  • Korea and Korean religions,
    • Sandae (masked drama) in,
      • 6: 4209
    • shamanism in (
      • kut ritual, and humor,
        • 6: 4208
    • tigers in,
      • 6: 4208
  • Kunio, Yanagita, on folklore and humor in Japan,
    • 6: 4208
  • Kut (Korean ritual),
    • humor in,
      • 6: 4208
  • Laughter.
    • Japanese festivals devoted to,
      • 6: 4208
    • in Zen Buddhism,
      • 6: 4207
  • Liu Ling, as eccentric,
    • 6: 4207
  • Liu Xie, on humor,
  • Maitreya (bodhisattva),
    • Budai as,
      • 6: 4209
  • Masquerades
    • Buddhist masked dramas,
      • 6: 4209
  • Monkeys,
    • in Xiyouji narrative,
      • 6: 4209
  • Performance.
    • humor in, in East Asia,
      • 6: 4209
  • Ridicule.
    • in Chinese Confucian tradition,
      • 6: 4206
  • Ritual(s),
    • humor and,
      • in East Asia,
        • 6: 4208
  • Sandae (play),
    • humor in,
      • 6: 4209
  • Sexuality,
    • humor associated with,
      • in East Asia,
        • 6: 4208
  • Shamanism,
  • Shang dynasty (China)
    • entertainment of the dead in,
      • 6: 4206
  • Sogaku, Harada, on humor,
    • 6: 4207
  • Suzuki, D. T.,
    • on humor in Zen,
      • 6: 4207
  • Three Doctrines (painting), humor in,
    • 6: 4209
  • Tigers
    • in Korean religion,
      • humor and,
        • 6: 4208
  • Tokugawa (Edo) period (Japan)
    • humor, suppression of,
      • 6: 4206
  • Tricksters,
    • in Korean religion, tigers as,
      • 6: 4208
  • Warai Matsuri festival, laughter at,
    • 6: 4208
  • Xiyouji (Chinese pilgrimage tale),
    • humor in,
      • 6: 4209
  • Yangge dances, humor and,
    • 6: 4208
  • Zen Buddhism,
  • Zhuangzi (Daoist text),
    • humor in,
      • 6: 4206-4207