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International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

4 Issues per year

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Volume 20, Issue 3


Translating ‘humor’ into Chinese culture

Qian Suoqiao
Published Online: 2007-08-14 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/HUMOR.2007.014


The Chinese term youmo for humor is a translated neologism in modern Chinese. It was Lin Yutang who first coined the term in 1924 and introduced and promoted the idea of humor into Chinese culture. Lin's translating ‘humor’ into youmo was a conscious cross-cultural act that mediates and appropriates cultural meaning between East and West. By way of cross-cultural translation, ‘humor’ as youmo takes on a multicultural meaning which not only enriches the notion of humor but also offers an aesthetic alternative to Chinese modernity through creative transformation of Chinese cultural tradition. After recognizing the Western reference of youmo, especially George Meredith's notion of the “comic spirit,” I will show how youmo intends to find a middle ground for Chinese modernity in which Chinese literature and culture can shake off shackles of moral pomposity while still maintaining a gentlemanly style or taste. The primary means for Lin to achieve that purpose is to re-interpret traditional Chinese culture, both Taoist and Confucianist, along humorous lines. And it is in such cross-cultural interaction that Lin Yutang developed his philosophical notion of youmo as “tolerant irony” based on the Taoist ironical stance towards life as well as the Confucian “Spirit of Reasonableness.”

Keywords: humor/‘youmo’; translation; Chinese cross-cultural; Lin Yutang

About the article

Published Online: 2007-08-14

Published in Print: 2007-08-21

Citation Information: Humor – International Journal of Humor Research, Volume 20, Issue 3, Pages 277–295, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/HUMOR.2007.014.

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