Chinese History: A New Manual, Fifth Edition by Endymion Wilkinson has a little note that says:

For a longer joke about a junior official with poor guanhua skills, see Xitan xulu 嘻談續錄 (Ticklish tales, continued). Xiaoshi daoren 小石道人, comp. eighteenth century; Columbia anthology (§30.7) 667.

§30.7 is a section entitled Guides & Research Tools, where the only thing that seems to match the title is this entry:

  1. Mair, Victor H. ed. 1994. The Columbia anthology of traditional Chinese literature. ColUP. Four hundred translations by many hands. Canonical works of literature are well represented, but what makes this an unusually rich feast for browsing is that almost anything written in Chinese during the last 3,200 years is also sampled from divination records to philosophical texts to anonymous folk ballads and the marginal doodles of a copyist.

Which seems to be this book:

The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature Edited by Victor H. Mair

Google Books doesn't seem to have a scanned version and I can't find any other digital version online at the moment.

There seems to be a chapter of Jokes that being on page 658 and run to page 670.

Does anyone know the joke that is listed on page 667 of the book?

1 Answer 1


It seems that the The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature Edited by Victor H. Mair also contains the same joke.

It begins on Page 437:


and continue on page 438


The original Chinese would need to be dug up to make any sense of this translation though.

Conversation Between a Senior Official and His Subordinate
from Sequel to Ticklish Tales
Man of the Way from Smallstone

A District duty officer who had obtained his position through purchase did not understand Mandarin.10 After he took office, he paid a courtesy call upon a regional official who asked him, "What are the customs like in your honorable district?"
"People don't cuss much there are there aren't many toms either."
"How are the fingerlings this year?"
"Finger rings cost two hundred and eighty cash."
"Are there many contributions of gentry grain?"
"Your servants teeth gently gleam."
"How are the commoners getting on" "We only have a couple of cummin bushes, but there are lots of cinnamon trees." "I was asking about the populace."
"We've got lots of poplars, but they don't produce much timber."
"I wasn't asking you about threes and such. What I am trying to find out about is the condition of the citizens."
Standing up hurriedly, the duty officer replied, "I regret to inform you, sir, that I have a face full of zits and an arse full of wens."

10. Mandarin (< Sanskrit mantrin [“counselor”]) quite literally means “language of the officials.” The Mandarin equivalent of this word is kuan-hua (official speech). Mandarin was the vernacular language employed by members of the Chinese bureaucracy who hailed from different parts of the country and, as such, spoke a variety of more or less mutually unintelligible native languages and topolects. Mandarin was based upon—but not entirely equivalent to—the language of the capital, being a somewhat refined version of the latter. This joke, which is challenging to render in English, reveals the difficulties inherent in forging a national bureaucracy from a multilingual constituency.

Apparently the original story in《嘻談續錄》is called《堂屬問答》and goes like this:


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