Maoist Laughter


Edited by Ping Zhu, Zhuoyi Wang, and Jason McGrath

ISBN : 978-988-8528-01-1

Cultural Studies, Gender Studies

August 2019

232 pages, 6″ x 9″, 19 b&w illus.

  • HK$460.00

During the Mao years, laughter in China was serious business. Simultaneously an outlet for frustrations and grievances, a vehicle for socialist education, and an object of official study, laughter brought together the political, the personal, the aesthetic, the ethical, the affective, the physical, the aural, and the visual. The ten essays in Maoist Laughter convincingly demonstrate that the connection between laughter and political culture was far more complex than conventional conceptions of communist indoctrination can explain. Their sophisticated readings of a variety of genres—including dance, cartoon, children’s literature, comedy, regional oral performance, film, and fiction—uncover many nuanced innovations and experiments with laughter during what has been too often misinterpreted as an unrelentingly bleak period. In Mao’s China, laughter helped to regulate both political and popular culture and often served as an indicator of shifting values, alliances, and political campaigns. In exploring this phenomenon, Maoist Laughter is a significant correction to conventional depictions of socialist China.

Ping Zhu is associate professor of Chinese literature at the University of Oklahoma and the author of Gender and Subjectivities in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Literature and Culture. Zhuoyi Wang is associate professor of East Asian languages and literatures at Hamilton College and the author of Revolutionary Cycles in Chinese Cinema, 1951–1979. Jason McGrath is associate professor of Asian languages and literatures at the University of Minnesota and the author of Postsocialist Modernity: Chinese Cinema, Literature, and Criticism in the Market Age.

Maoist Laughter brings together prominent scholars of contemporary China to make a timely and original contribution to the burgeoning field of Maoist literature and culture. One of its main strengths lies in the sheer number of genres covered, including dance, traditional Chinese performance, visual arts, film, and literature. The focus on humor in the Maoist period gives an exciting new perspective from which to understand cultural production in twentieth-century China.” —Krista Van Fleit, University of South Carolina

“An illuminating study of the culture of laughter in the Maoist period. Focusing on much-neglected topics such as satire, jokes, and humor, this book is an essential contribution to our understanding of how socialist culture actually ‘worked’ as a coherent, dynamic, and constructive life experience. The chapters show that traditional culture could almost blend perfectly with revolutionary mission.” —Xiaomei Chen, University of California, Davis

2020 Choice’s Outstanding Academic Title

“Taken together, the essays work in concert to offer groundbreaking insight into laughter and humor in the Mao era. . .  [T]his volume is the first in-depth examination of an interesting subject and is a welcome addition to the literature on Maoist culture.” —G. Zhou, Choice