Lu Xun

The Secret of Being a Joker

Written: August 28, 1933
Source: Chinese Literature Number 2, 1978 pages 76-77
Online Version: Lu Xun Reference Archive, September 2005
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Mike B.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Kierkegaard* is a Dane with a gloomy outlook on life, whose works always breathe indignation. But lie says some amusing things too, as in the passage below:

A theatre catches fire. The clown steps to the front of the stage to announce the fact to the audience, who think it a joke and applaud. Then the clown announces again that there is a fire, but they roar with laughter and clap more loudly than ever. No doubt the world will end amid the general applause of these laughter-loving people who take everything as a joke.

What amuses me, however, is not this passage alone but the way it reminds me of these jokers' cunning. When there is a job to be done, they help out; when theit masters are bent on crime, they become accomplices. But they help in such a way that in case of bloodshed no bloodstain is found on them, nor any reek of blood.

For instance, if something serious has happened and everyone is taking it seriously, the joker starts clowning to make the thing look funny, or exaggerates some irrelevant aspects of it to distract attention. This is known as "playing the fool". If murder has been done, he describes the scene of the crime and the hard work of the detectives. If the one killed is a woman, so much the better: he can refer to her as "the lovely corpse" or introduce her diary. If it is an assassination, he tells the life story of the victim, relates his love affairs and the anecdotes about him…Passions are bound to cool down eventually, but cold water—or, to he more refined, green tea—will speed up the cooling-off process. Then this fellow playing the fool becomes a man of letters.

If a serious alarm is raised before men have grown completely apathetic, of course that is bad for the murderer. But then the joker can play the fool again, cracking jokes and making faces on one side, so that the man who has raised the alarm looks like a clown himself to everyone, and his warnings sound laughable. The joker shrinks and shivers to show how rich and mighty the other is. He bows and sighs to show the other's pride. Then the man who raised the alarm is considered a hypocrite. Luckily most of these jokers are men: otherwise they could accuse the one who gives the warning of attempted seduction, making public a great many indecent details, and finally pretend to kill themselves for shame. When there are jokers all around, the most serious talk loses its force and amid the suspicion and laughter an end is made of everything unfavourable to the murderer. This time the joker appears as a moralist.

When there are no incidents of this kind, jokers collect tittle-tattie for the newspaper supplements every week or ten days with which to stuff readers' heads. After reading this for six months or a year, your mind is stocked with stories of how a certain great man plays mah-jong or a certain film star sneezes. This is naturally quite amusing. But the world will come to an end amid the laughter of these laughter-loving people.

* Soren Azbye Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Danish philosopher and theologian.

Lu Xun Internet Archive
Back to Reference Archive