Ask Mei

Internet humour

Are Chinese netizens witty?

Most Westerners think we Chinese are too serious, lacking emotions and a sense of humour. Many also think that due to tight government control of the media, it is hard to see the type of political satire that is prevalent in the West.

The reality is far from this perception. Yes, you hardly see any political satire in the mainstream media. However, thanks to the popularity of the internet and smartphones, the Chinese have been super prolific and diligent in creating and spreading jokes and political satire on social media platforms such as Sina Weibo (though less so than a couple of years ago) and more recently on WeChat.

Almost on a daily basis I come across writings or images that poke fun at government policies, Party officials, environmental degradation or certain cultural phenomenon.

Actually, Week in China has been sharing some of the best social media humour in its reports since its inception in 2009. As we approach the end of the year, I would like to share a few popular internet jokes and hope they will bring you laughter as well as some insight into contemporary Chinese humour.

On food safety:

“We Chinese received comprehensive chemistry education from our daily dinner tables: we learned about paraffin wax from our rice, DDVP from our ham, naphthalene red from our salted eggs, formaldehyde from our hotpots, sulphur from our honeyed dates, and melamine from baby milk powder.”

“When foreigners drink milk they get jieshi (strong, 结实), when we Chinese drink milk we get jieshi (kidney stones, 结石).” [Note: The last characters of the two character words strong and stone are different but their pronunciations are very similar.]

On footballers’ shooting skills:

“Those who can score by a powerful kick from 30 metres away are German footballers, those who can score from 3 metres away through beautiful passing are Portuguese footballers, and those who can knock over the corner flag in penalty kicks are Chinese footballers.”

On rapid economic development:

“When we were little and poor, we only ate simple food, drank water and rode bicycles everywhere we went. We envied foreigners for their rich food, expensive alcohol, fancy cigarettes and smart cars. So we worked like crazy for the past 30 years just to catch up with them. Now, finally we are also eating rich food, drinking expensive alcohol, smoking fancy cigarettes and driving smart cars; yet the foreigners switched to eating organic food, drinking water, riding bicycles and giving up cigarettes all together. Why didn’t they tell us 30 years ago this would be the new trend? It could have saved us all the hardship we’ve endured just to reach the global standard of La Dolce Vita.”

Finally, here is a joke that came out shortly after Mark Zuckerberg and his wife announced they’d donate 99% of their Facebook shares to charitable causes.

“As we approach the end of the year, there are a lot of fraudsters posing as corporate executives and philanthropists while seeking money and publicity. One such guy called Zuckerberg claimed to be the head of Facebook and says he’s donating tens of billions of dollars to charitable causes. I wasn’t so easily fooled so I went online and looked it up. It turned out that Facebook is totally illegal and I can’t even open their webpage – what a hoax!” [The satire here: Facebook is banned in China.]

The funnier thing is that when I reposted this joke to my personal WeChat group, my 80 year-old high-school teacher, who had never heard of Facebook replied: “Thank you for warning us. There are indeed a lot of fraudsters these days.” I had to explain to her that the joke was poking fun at China’s internet censorship regime. Laughs all round.

 

A native Chinese who grew up in northeastern China, Mei attended an elite university in Beijing in the late 1980s and graduate school in the US in the early 1990s. Over two decades she has worked in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China, both in the media and with two global investment banks, where she has honed her bicultural perspective. If you’d like to ask her a question, send her an email at [email protected]


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