Tang Center Symposium

Wit and Humor: Visualizing Playfulness in East Asian Art

Graduate Student Symposium

1 March 2014, 9:30 am–5:30 pm
101 McCormick Hall, Princeton University

Organized by the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art
Cosponsored by the Princeton University Art Museum

symposium Program

Wit and humor have played an important role in art from ancient times to the present, sometimes transcending cultures. Humor, which is often based on breaking boundaries and flouting conventions, can provide amusement to a wide audience but can also convey hidden innuendoes intelligible only to the savvy few. What makes who laugh? What is humorous often depends on the point of view and context. What is humorous to some might be considered as insulting or deadly serious to others. Humor has also been used to disguise the dark and grotesque, inciting laughter at the expense of others. Similarly, the kitsch, the camp, and the cute frequently straddle the boundaries of play and humor. How do artists convey or visualize humor? Artists sometimes exploit political events, religion, elite culture, and social customs to provoke laughter. By visualizing the unconventional, deviating from established norms, or juxtaposing unexpected subjects and styles, they can find innovative ways to display wit, humor, and play in their works. How can scholars decode, identify, and differentiate humor, satire, farce, parody, and irony in playful works of art? Are there underlying messages encrypted in witty and unconventional works? What are the recurrent themes that might signal humorous intent? Do we laugh more or less, or at different times, over the years and centuries? This symposium invites keen minds to explore visual articulations of wit and humor in East Asia. Does the serious study of humor necessarily take the laughter out of it??


symposium schedule

Saturday, 1 March 2014
101 McCormick Hall


Registration and Coffee, 8:30–9:30 am


Morning Session 9:30 am–12:30 pm


Wai Yee Chiong, Princeton University


Keynote Lecture

Material Translations: Wit in Japanese Lacquer

Dr. Christine Guth, Senior Tutor, Asian Design and Material Culture Specialism

Royal College of Art


Career Play: Rewards, Promotions, and Officialdom in an Early Western Han Board Game

Luke Habberstad, Department of History, University of California, Berkeley


Sick Pleasure: On the Humorous Valence in Yamai no sōshi (Scroll of Diseases and Deformities)

in Medieval Japan

Chun Wa Chan, Department of the History of Art, University of Michigan


The Thirty-Year Echo: Early Film Comedy of Taiwan and South Korea

Evelyn Shih, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

University of California, Berkeley



Discussant: Dr. Christine Guth

Moderator: Wai Yee Chiong


Afternoon Session 2:15–5:30 pm

What's So funny about Writing about Literati Painting in Northern Song China? How Poetry Misunderstood Painting

Yao Hua, Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Peking University


Clever Couplings: Re-reading the "Fashionable" Eight Parlor Views

Jeannie E. Kenmotsu, Department of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania


From Sacred to Satirical: A Collaboration between Katsukawa Shunshō and Kō Sūkoku

Wai Yee Chiong, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University


Time and Identity: The Past, Present, and Future in Chinese Caricatures

at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

I-Wei Wu, Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Heidelberg



Discussant: Dr. Christine Guth

Moderator: Sol Jung, Princeton University


Concluding Remarks

Sol Jung, Princeton University

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