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The Laughing Sutra

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  822 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Iron & Silk, Mark Salzman's bestselling account of his adventures as an English teacher and martial arts student in China, introduced a writer of enormous charm and keen insight into the cultural chasm between East and West. Now Salzman returns to China in his first novel, which follows the adventures of Hsun-ching, a naive but courageous orphan, and the formidable and mys ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 15th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1991)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Debbie Zapata
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Laughing Sutra is the story of Hsun-ching, who travels from China to America to find a sacred scroll for Wei-ching an old monk who cared for Hsun-ching from the time he was a young boy, hoping to fulfill the old man's one desire in life, which was to read that particular sutra. Hsun-ching travels with a mysterious partner (you may call him Colonel Sun) who turned out to be essential to everything and a petty cool character.

I love Salzman's work, and this book was wonderful, but someday I wa
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent tale of enlightenment and struggle.
Owen Curtsinger
May 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Character development and stylish prose are definitely not Salzman's strong points as a novelist; The Laughing Sutra floats along with almost no real convincing and vivid descriptions of characters or scenes. What the novel relies on to move along is the plot itself, and I found this strikingly similar to most actual Chinese classical works. From what I've read, many classical tales rely on the plot for power and effect, relaying the main idea (or teaching) through the situations that characters ...more
May 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I am not sure why I didn't rate this one higher. It isn't a bad book at all; it just didn't strike me as better than average.

The storyline is a fantasy quest; a young student sets off in search of a miraculous sutra-scroll for his failing master. He is accompanied by a mythical creature who is trying to reconcile ancient values with the things he encounters in the modern world, often with mixed results.

The best bits, I felt, were those of cultural misunderstanding between the Chinese way(s) of l
Stephen Gallup
Jul 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
What a delightful book! The wife and daughter both became curious about it when they heard my laughter and saw how reluctant I was to put it down. And yet, despite the humor it's not just fluff. (Which puts me in mind of a forgettable novel by Douglas Adams, in which it felt as if the author were trying too hard to be funny -- because in that case without the giggles there wasn't much else.) If the humor were stripped out, The Laughing Sutra would still be an engaging story. This is my fourth ex ...more
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. The story was a great mix of fantasy, history, loyalty, love, you name it and it was part of the story. The characters were interesting and I found myself rooting for them at every turn of theirs adventures.
Jun 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Janice by: Dave
Will have you laughing out loud!
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was skeptical about the idea of a westerner modernizing Journey to the West, but I ended up quite smitten with this book. It is both comfortable and exotic, and much like french fries and a milkshake is a successful combination of unlikely flavors. The outrages characters in this book are what won my endearment. One particularly memorable scene sets our protagonist, a Chinese peasant turned "sent down youth"(知青), his Monkey King sidekick, and an American wannabe-bohemian-art-major female love ...more
Toya Fish
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is a slow start kind of book.
Does give you the reminder of the potential beauty of that lives within all of us and in the world around us if we have the courage to open our eyes to see it.

Spoiler of Opinion!!! ->

Unfortunately, I personally was looking for more technique. The martial arts for example are as lacking as a four year old writer. When you think those moves out in your head is one thing however to dramatically to empower the emotions needed to create the scene's credibility to th
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lets just say Mark knows how to choose a book title:)
The Laughing Sutra is very different from what i've read before, for one it's set in China most of it and that's a first for me and its writing is so simple it makes it easier to get through. For me it partly read like a middle grade but it isn't a middle grade which is amazing. This book has a way of knocking your emotions of course. One second you're laughing and the next something has happened and your entire emotions shift.
I'm so glad i
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: year-7, ywca-4
This seems like Christopher Moore’s version of fun, and it is for readers too. What Salzman does best is write about China. He doesn’t paint it as a bleak place of no hope, not does he sugar coat it. He simply turns it into an imaginable place.

The use of Monkey works, for the most part. Salzman is widely judicious with how much he leans on “INTO THE WEST”, but it does get distracting sometimes... after the discovery of the pig train it seems there are to be more allusions to Monkey, but Sandy an
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it
A classic quest novel. My son was assigned it for summer reading so I picked it up. I can see how it worked well for his assignment. For leisure reading however, it was merely ok. A quick read that is unlikely to stay with me.
Sep 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a really enjoyable read, with a little bit of superhero in it, some Chinese history, and very likeable characters. It was a good distraction from reality and that's what I was looking for. Not the usual kind of book I read, with adventure and some fantasy, but I really enjoyed it.
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I loved this book, though I can't remember much about it now. But I really enjoyed it!! Read it about 20 years ago, probably.
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jackie Stefan
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read this book because my daughter's Masters thesis is on The Monkey King
Jun 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful : )
Un Moine Vexé
A terrible debut novel. Possibly the worst take on the character Monkey I’ve ever seen.
Sep 23, 2020 added it
A blend of picaresque adventure, guide to China's history, politics and culture, and satire on contemporary life in China and the U.S., the book has an unpretentious charm.
Writer's Relief
Jun 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
THE LAUGHING SUTRA by Mark Salzman is a humorous look into the misadventures of a young orphan boy, Hsun-Ching, during the tumultuous period of “Cultural Revolution” in China. Tossed over a waterfall as a child, rescued by a mysterious stranger, and then placed into the care of a solitary Monk named Wei-ching, a collector of sutras who has read them all, save for one, the “Laughing Sutra”. A fabled sutra said to grant enlightenment to anyone who reads it. Unable to get his hands on the sutra due ...more
Paul K
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Laughing Sutra is an intriguing story about an orphan named Hsun-Ching, who is raised by a Buddhist monk named Wei-Ching. Wei-Ching has spent his life collecting sutras, and his final goal is to find one of the last, undocumented sutras in existence, rumored to grant the reader eternal life - the Laughing Sutra. However, as time passes and ruling in China changes, Wei-Ching and Hsun-Ching are separated for several years - until one day, Hsun-Ching returns to his home, and finds that Wei-Chin ...more
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
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Mar 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
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Apr 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
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Oct 24, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-teenagers
This is a fable about the misadventures of a boy who is orphaned and then raised by a monk. To grant the monk/surrogate father's dying wish... which revolves around obtaining the Laughing Sutra... the boy Hsun-ching sets off on a journey with a companion, the mysterious Colonel Sun.

In addition to dealing with Chinese officials and American police officers, Hsun-ching must also deal with whether or not his traveling companion Colonel Sun is simply an incredibly crazy loon, or (could it be?) actua
Glen Engel-Cox
The Laughing Sutra, although fiction, is the perfect counterpoint to Salzman's nonfiction book, Iron & Silk. Salzman is the main figure in Iron & Silk, showing the cultural differences between the American and Chinese through his viewpoint. In The Laughing Sutra, he is able to turn the tables and present these differences from the viewpoints of a modern Chinese and an ancient Chinese (Salzman’s language specialty was classical Chinese, which is to modern Mandarin what Latin is to Italian). The s ...more
Michelle Chan
Oct 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
The Laughing Sutra is based on Chinese Culture. At a young age, Hsun-Ching became an orphan. He was raised by Wei-Ching, a devoted Buddhist monk in search of the Laughing Sutra. The Laughing Sutra is a scroll which may reveal the path to enlightment. The only problem is that the scroll has been placed in the United States. In order to get in reach of the Laughing Sutra, they must travel. With traveling comes long journeys and with long journeys come great adventures.
A line that stood out to me i
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: set-in-asia-f-nf
This wasn't at all like the books I usually read, but I did enjoy it. This is said to be "a contemporary version of a classic tale." Now I'm curious about the original version (but I don't know that I'd want to read a long story from Chinese folklore).

p 95 About being truthful:
"... Sometimes telling the truth is important, but sometimes it isn't."
"It's just that I don't like lying," Hsun-ching said. "One you start, what's to stop you from doing it all the time?"
The colonel clicked his tongue wit
Cindy Leighton
Nov 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Delightful adventure story of a young Chinese orphan and the mysterious Colonel Sun who sneak out of mainland China to travel to San Francisco in search of a Buddhist scripture (The Laughing Sutra) to sneak back into China for a beloved dying man. Fantasy, adventure, mystery, romance, fairy tale all wrapped up in one with liberal doses is cultural commentary. Loved the disbelief that a clown with a painted white face could own restaurants - white is the color of death and decidedly bad luck. Als ...more
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Mark Salzman is an award-winning novelist and nonfiction author who has written on a variety of subjects, from a graceful novel about a Carmelite nun’s ecstatic visions and crisis of faith to a compelling memoir about growing up a misfit in a Connecticut suburb – clearly displaying a range that transcends genre. As a boy, all Salzman ever wanted was to be a Kung Fu master, but it was his proficien ...more

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