Novelist and essayist Lin Yutang was responsible, in the mid-1920s, for his translation of the word “humor” into Chinese as “幽默 (Yōumò)”. When he was asked if the Chinese people were incapable of comprehending humor and irony, he replied, “That is a concrete fact, indeed.”
Whether or not it was true in the 1920s (it wasn’t), nowadays it would be impossible to believe that Chinese people are somehow genetically deprived of a sense of humor. On Weibo at least, satire seems to be what the 400 million users feed on daily. Apart from being a major source of news (and rumors), Weibo is also a vast platform for Chinese people to indulge their appetite for satire. Bad news travels fast on Weibo, much faster than good news. Whenever you log on, fresh news of corruption, pollution, bus crashes and collapsed bridges fall faster than an avalanche. The world of Weibo is such a stark contrast to the CCTV-1 Network News that users need a big dose of humor and satire; the alternative being a Weibo awash with bitter cynicism.
But Weibo is just the latest in a long line of the Chinese satire tradition. For a Beijinger in the 1940s to hear some good jokes about politics and sex, they would go to a teahouse to see xiangsheng, traditional Chinese cross-talk. However, in the 1950s climate, political powers wanted to bleach society of all things “feudal”, and xiangsheng became unrecognizable when comedians were made to praise the new policies in their show. It experienced a brief flourish in the 1980s but again was fatally undermined by the reform of the culture market in the late 1980s to a mere form of harmless entertainment.
In some sense, Weibo reclaimed the concept of irony and satire. It even moderately resembles the xiangsheng tradition of duanzi (段子). Duanzi are short jokes, usually set in a fictional situation and involve a quick punch line. Although there are plenty of “爆笑段子” (Bàoxiào duànzi, shallow, hilarious jokes) on Weibo, duanzi quickly regained its old strength. Many grassroots Weibo celebrities, such as Li Tiegen (李铁根) and Dong Dong Qiang (东东枪), built their popularity on duanzi. When Netease, one of China’s biggest Weibo hosts, promoted their microblog service, the advertisement stated, “无段子，不微博。” (Wú duànzi, bù wēi bó. No duanzi, no microblog.) A shortcut to finding the most popular duanzi of the day is to follow @贱人培训班 (Jiàn rén péixùn bān, Bitches’ Training Class) and @段子手疗养中心 (Duànzishǒu Liáoyǎng Zhōngxīn, Duanzi Writers’ Asylum).
However, the most commonplace satire you can find on Weibo is not duanzi, which takes a great writer to perform, but tucao (吐槽). Tucao comes from the Japanese, meaning to joke about something that you dislike. More often than not, tucao on Weibo target things that are distinctly Chinese, such as the Spring Festival migration and PM2.5 statistics, and they spread like wildfire. For those eager to avoid the infamous three-month freeze on their account from too much tucao, adding “I’m talking about North Korea” at the end of the post is a good way to distract attention.
Of course there are other ways to be satirical on Weibo. To be a really influential Weibo satirist, it takes a mix of duanzi and tucao, and, of course, it takes that little extra spice to make a satirist a household name. The following six Weibo satirists vary greatly in style, but all of them use their time and wit to entertain on Weibo, just like the teahouses of a bygone past.
“My heart is in Pyongyang, which I never really left.”
@Writer Choi Seong Ho
Self-description: My original name is “Pyongyang Choi Seong Ho”. My heart is with Pyongyang, which I never really left. I don’t follow anyone on Weibo, and I won’t verify my identity.
This Weibo-er claims to be the “editor-in-chief” of Pyongyang’s Workers’ Pictorial and is now enrolled in an education program in China. His Weibo assumes that the United States is an evil empirical power bent on sabotaging the leadership of North Korea and that all Chinese people should be dying to immigrate to his glorious motherland. He is always ready to defend Kim Jong-un and his family against the slightest slander. In his version of North Korea, there is no poverty, starvation or totalitarianism, only affluence and passion for the leader—in short, superior to every country in every way. He uses incorrect Chinese (maybe a little too intentionally) and his most used phrases are 随时受不了 (Suíshí shòu bùliǎo) which translates to “break down at any time”, meaning something close to being completely fed up, and the famous 报上你的经纬度！(Bào shàng nǐ de jīngwěidù) or “Report your longitude and latitude!”
These phrases have made such a splash that, on the supposed Mayan Doomsday, the United Nations stated on their Weibo: “The U.N. doesn’t have any tickets to the ark. Break down at any time! Grr!”
If you want to tucao but are concerned about the Weibo block, please note at the end of your post: “I’m speaking of South Korea.” Thank you.
Our highest commander’s watch is not as good as the watches of the common Chinese officials’ watches. We are so ashamed that we could break down at any time.
Last night I had a dream that the U.S. imperialists invented a new weapon called the earthquake machine. The U.S. was so concerned about North Korea’s growing power that it shamelessly used the earthquake weapon last April. However, the earthquake was blocked by Japanese islands, and, as a result, Japan suffered a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami along its eastern coast. America’s plan has once again been foiled. How they shame themselves! Huh!
“In the real world, Huazong is known as the ‘watch examiner.'”
@General Secretary of Huaguo Mountain
His Weibo user name literally translates as “General Secretary of Huaguo Mountain”, often abbreviated as “Huazong” (General Hua). He uses irony and political satire in the style of gentlemen’s fashion, and his fame comes in the form of the letter “B”.
“B” here is not the profanity Chinese football fans are known to shout; it originates from the word “装逼” (Zhuāng bī, “pretend” in a despicable tone) and means “a fashion snob” or “zhuangbility” in Chinglish. In Huazong’s text, its derivations include “B-er” (the personification of B), “B格” (B gé, the dignity of a Ber) and “装逼界” (Zhuāng bī jiè, the B business).
In 2011, Huazong penned a series of zhuangbility guides, from umbrellas, pencils and phones to the manners of the upper class. In contrast to his number of followers (recently hitting 190 thousand), Huazong has a habit of deleting his Weibo posts because he’s a bit of a neat freak; his Weibo posts barely add up to 40 in all.
“Those B-ers who lose their true selves in zhuangbility are the most pathetic B-ers,” Huazong said in an interview, which may serve as a reminder to those who don’t get the irony in his guides.
In the real world, Huazong is known as the “watch examiner”. In 2011, he examined over 10,000 Chinese officials’ photos, focusing on their wrists. He found that some of them own a considerable number of luxury watches, and his discovery became crucial evidence of corruption. He also makes frequent appearances on talk shows about “internet anti-corruption” and is a hard-line supporter of making Chinese officials’ income public.
To lift your pants all the way up to the beneath of your nipples is the style of the first and the second generations of Big Brothers (大哥 Dàgē, referring to high-ranking officials).
After Deng Xiaoping (the fomer General Secretary of Communist Party of China) passed away, it’s not fashionable to wear Neiliansheng cloth shoes anymore.
Don’t wear watches. [If you insist, then] don’t wear over three watches, and remember to only choose safe brands: domestic ones like Beijing, Seagull, Shanghai, Fiyta are all politically correct.
“If you really believe it, then it might not work for you.”
@Old Fortune Calendar for the Youth
Self-description: A young person’s tutorial to daily life, a wicked satire guide for you to get around in the mortal world. If you really believe it, then it might not work for you.
A Fortune Calendar is a type of traditional Chinese lunar calendar that, apart from telling the date, also tells you what brings good and bad luck every day, supposedly based on the I Ching and astrology. But, Old Fortune Calendar for the Youth also realizes that these traditional ideas are in need of a bit of an update.
After all, how helpful can a thousand-year-old calendar really be in modern day? This calendar gives guidance on things such as whether you should or shouldn’t run up a down escalator, wear a grey scarf or troll on comment threads. Instead of astrology, this fortune calendar claims that it is backed by a team of 300 scientists. “Copulating” is the only thing that constantly brings you good luck and is always recommended.
Date: February 9, 2013, Saturday, December 29 on the Lunar Calendar
Good luck: Wearing diamond net tights, dinning excessively, keeping cool, paying compliments to people behind their backs, having a spontaneous trip away from home, attending New Year orgies, and sex in general.
Bad luck: Copying [and sending] cliché text messages as greetings, constantly channel surfing, complaining about the New Year Gala, avoiding cooking, pretending to be happy, or cheating on your spouse with a same-sex lover.
Fortune Calendar’s tips on how to deal with the new traffic regulation (which forbids driving through a yellow light):
- Saying “I love scientists” three times to yourself will stop the traffic light from turning yellow.
- Having unprotected sex will lead you getting caught by traffic cameras not wearing your seatbelt.
- Keeping a durian fruit in the car will fool speed radars.
- Chewing onions will cause traffic cameras to black out.
- Washing your feet for 30 minutes every morning will get points put back on your license.
“You say you’re finding yourself. What the hell are you talking about? I give you a negative score…”
Self-description: I think I look like an artist.
Rating people’s looks is what Liujishou is known for. His ID literally means “keep a few secret tricks”, and, in most cases, he is nicknamed “Brother Shou” (手哥 Shǒu gē).
Brother Shou is verbally abusive and suspiciously misogynistic, as he is particularly acid-tongued with women. Most of the photos get long, insulting comments that end with “Negative score, fuck off!” However, no one really seems offended. Instead, every day Liujishou’s Weibo gets dozens of photos, asking him to rate their looks, most of them women. “Brother Shou, abuse me please! I swear I will not delete the photo,” most of the requests say.
This masochistic trend so confounded the traditional newspaper Workers’ Daily that it published an editorial concerned that Liujishou’s language is “breaking the bottom line of morality in our society”.
Plaid shirt, army cap, nerdy glasses. You have been saving money for half a year and finally saved enough for a trip to trendy tourist attractions such as Lijiang or Gulangyu. During the trip, you like to gulp down a bottle of milk tea from time to time, but it is likely well past its expiration date. You try to read Zhang Xiaoxian (a Taiwanese romance novelist and essayist) in a café or on the train, but you can’t even make it past the first five pages. When you get lost, you never say you are lost. You say you’re finding yourself. What the hell are you talking about? I give you a negative score, fuck off!
“A creative team who produce various competitive film and video products.”
Self-description: Creative team who produce various competitive film and video products.
Y-show Club is a Hangzhou-based dubbing team of about 50 members who specialize in rewriting the dialogue for soap operas, films and news clips and redubbing them in a funny way. In their videos, a CCTV News anchorman speaks in a Sichuan Dialect and the Monkey King from Journey to the West complains about how he can’t get a ticket back home during the Spring Festival. Also, if you have trouble understanding the Chinese, they’ve started with English videos and subtitles.
In their latest video, Sheldon from the The Big Bang Theory explains the entangled plot of the characters from Life of Zhenhuan (《甄嬛传》), a popular Chinese soap opera, but the original clip is him explaining his own particular brand of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Concubine Hua framed Concubine Shen, Concubine Cao betrayed Concubine Zhen, Concubine An defected to the empress, Concubine Zhen defeated Concubine Hua, the empress set up Concubine Zhen，Concubine An shocked Concubine Shen, the empress killed Concubine An, Concubine Ye poisoned the emperor, Concubine Zhen overturned the empress and at the end of the day, she became the Empress Dowager.
“Most of the Weibo posts criticize the society of her time, the Song Dynasty.”
Self-description: My fire for desire is involuntary; I am horny but I’m not meant to be. All the flowery speech here is really a handful of heartbreaking facts.
This Weibo account goes by the name of Pan Jinlian, the famous lascivious woman in Outlaws of the Marsh. When it began, creating Weibo usernames under the guise of a dead icon for satire on various contemporary social issues was a popular fad. There were from the supposedly selfless soldier of the PLA Lei Feng, ancient ruler Liu Bei from the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280) and the sharp-tongued writer Lu Xun. To date, Pan Jinlian’s Diary is the last survivor of this genre.
However, the diary is not that faithful to the life of Pan Jinlian—most of the Weibo posts criticize the society of her time, the Song Dynasty.
After dinner, I saw the weather outside was beautiful. All the good citizens were enjoying the weather while the officials were suffering from autumn dryness. I was swaggering around town with my writings when I saw a famous temple called “Money Monastery”. Next to it, a foreign teahouse had just opened with “Starbucks” on its plate, surrounded by a large crowd. I approached and found them criticizing (the commercial nature of) the teahouse, claiming that the teahouse brings disgrace to the holy ground on which the temple stands. The number of complaints could fill a mountain or even a whole city. I sighed and thought to myself that all temples stink of money (because they force patrons to buy joss candles and pay for fortune telling. Compared to them, the “Starbucks” is much holier.