June 25, 2008

Laughing at the Government

Filed under: China,east-west,politics — Kim @ 3:53 pm

When I went to live Hungary in 1991, it was not that long since the fall of the Berlin wall, the lifting of the iron curtain, and all the consequent changes to the region. And so there was still a fair bit of talk about “the bad old days” and my curiosity about what life under Communism had been like was satisfied by normal conversations without me having to be overly nosy about it.

And people at the time still told “Communist jokes”. These were largely concerned with how inefficient Communism was (or rather had been) or how stupid the police/soldiers/politicians (enforcers of Communist doctrine) were. And often they had an anti-Russian slant to them.

Some samples…

A man is queuing for food in Moscow. Finally he’s had enough. He turns round to his friend and says “That’s it. I’m going to kill that Gorbachev,” and marches off. Two hours later he comes back. “Well,” says the friend, “did you do it?” “No,” replies the other, “there was an even longer queue over there.”

Capitalism stands on the brink of the abyss. It will soon be overtaken by Communism.

Three prisoners in the gulag get to talking about why they are there. “I am here because I always got to work five minutes late, and they charged me with sabotage,” says the first. “I am here because I kept getting to work five minutes early, and they charged me with spying,” says the second. “I am here because I got to work on time every day,” says the third, “and they charged me with owning a western watch.”

And there’s even an Olympic related one…

Brezhnev reads a speech at the Winter Olympics “O-O-O-O-O.” “No,” his aide whispers to him, “that’s the Olympic logo.”

Well, we live in a Communist country here in China, don’t we? And have I ever heard any Communist jokes here? No.

I can only guess at the reasons really, but the first thing that springs to mind is that while the Soviet Union was presiding over an unconcealably crumbling and risible economy during the 1970s and 80s, China’s economy under the stewardship of those Commie bastards has quite obviously been on the up and up since the death of Mad Mao. (Maybe it was an ironic joke to put him on the banknotes?)

And so a fair few of the kind of Commie jokes told above simply wouldn’t be applicable for modern China, and so would not be funny.

But if it is true, as one pundit has it, that “The Communist joke was by nature deadpan and absurdist—because it was born of an absurd system which created a yawning gap between everyday experience and propaganda” then there should have been jokes-a-plenty during the years of Mao’s misrule, where the gap between reality and government propaganda was more than yawning, it was gaping and gigantic…it was sound asleep. But I have never heard or read any jokes from the Mao era. Perhaps everyone was too shit scared or starving hungry to tell jokes. Political jokes are dissent and dissent was deeply dangerous during Mao’s murderous reign. Or perhaps I have just missed them somehow because they never got translated from the Chinese and published in places I might read.

But another reason I don’t know any Chinese Communist jokes is probably because the Chinese don’t actually make as many political jokes as Europeans. After all, this Soviet Union era joke would certainly apply to China today…

When was the first Russian election? The time that God put Eve in front of Adam and said, “Go ahead, choose your wife.”

Now, credit where credit is due…since Mao shuffled off his mortal coil China has progressed a lot in several ways, not simply economically. And the CCP has to be given some credit for that. But the government in China needs more jokes to be told about it. It deserves some satire and some jibes for locking up decent people like Hu Jia, and for censoring anything it doesn’t agree with, and for treating its adult citizens like children (not least by refusing them the vote), and for trying to erase or alter its sordid past.

Not to laugh at the CCP would be laughable.

Anyone know any good Chinese Commie jokes??


  1. Read Hammer & Tickle: A History of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes. I only scanned it, still too expensive for my tastes to buy, but it had some good stuff.


    Comment by Seanmunist — June 27, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  2. Years ago there was a governor of Shanxi Province surnamed Hu. At government meetings, whenever Governor Hu spoke, the secretary would write in the minutes “胡说:….”

    Comment by chriswaugh_bj — June 29, 2008 @ 3:02 am

  3. Thanks, nice one! Although I had to get my wife to explain it for me…That’s exactly the kind of thing China needs much more of.

    Comment by Kim — June 29, 2008 @ 4:44 am

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