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David Wertime

Tongue-in-Cheek Nation: 10 Hilarious and Clever Chinese Internet Stories from 2012

It’s been a fascinating year in Chinese cyberspace. Chinese Internet users now number about 538 million, with hundreds of millions of those generating over 100 million posts per day on Sina Weibo, China’s most vibrant micro-blogging platform. No wonder: With once-in-a-generation political upheavals and a steady stream of scandalous, salacious, and sentimental stories, there has been a lot to talk about.

China’s Internet is, of course, a censored place. The government cracked down in March and April, only to loosen its control in recent weeks (but did so while making it harder to bypass the Great Firewall keeping sites like Facebook and Twitter inaccessible from China). Through it all, China’s Web users have retained their moxie, their (often wry) sense of humor, and their sheer ability to engineer memes, catchphrases, and codes out of whatever material lies at hand. That’s the reason the Chinese Internet has been so fascinating in this, Tea Leaf Nation’s inaugural year.

Below are TLN’s ten most hilarious and clever stories from the Chinese Web, circa 2012. We can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring.

Mr. Anti-America Goes to Washington (And Gets Hurt) (Rachel, January 26)

Sima Nan (aka Yu Li), an essayist known in China as an “anti-American warrior,” wrote a Weibo post decrying the U.S. as the “enemy of all the people in the world.” What he didn’t write: He was about to board a plane bound for Washington, DC. Sima Nan’s seeming hypocrisy would have gone undiscovered had he not gotten his head caught between railing and ceiling while ascending an escalator at DC’s Dulles Airport.

Liberal bloggers went to town. Li Chengpeng wrote, “The American imperialists can no longer produce weapons of mass destruction due to their declining economy, so they switched from a war using aircraft carriers to a war using escalators. Mr. Sima astutely caught wind of this, and bravely went to enemy territory… and successfully destroyed the imperialists’ weapon in the testing phase.”

Kim Jong-Un, Re-Imagined (Jimmy, April 20)

When photoshop is combined with Chinese netizens’ frequent disdain for their unpredictable neighbor, the result is memorable. Courtesy of user @张洲演义.

Shanghai Index Falls by 64.89 Points on Anniversary of 6/4/89 (Rachel, June 4)

Discussion of the grim events of the Tiananmen uprising was heavily censored on and off-line. Yet on the 23rd anniversary of the uprising, which occurred on 6/4/89, the Shanghai stock exchange closed the day down 64.89 points. What’s more, the same index opened at 2346.98 points–counting backwards, the first four digits of that number are 8964.  Was this all a coincidence? It’s certainly possible; but we can at least credit netizens with quickly noting the apparent significance of the numbers, pointing to the “eerie” markets. In doing so, they found another coded method of discussing the poignant anniversary.

China’s “Fat Police Officer” Meme Goes Viral (Liz Carter, July 6)

The NIMBY protest in Shifang, Sichuan against a planned molybdenum copper plant quickly caught fire in China’s blogosphere and, soon, the international press. Netizens were shocked and angered by images depicting brutality by some members of the city’s riot police, in particular Mr. Liu Bo. Although they could not take direct action against Liu, they could at least make merciless fun of him. The “fat police officer” meme was thus born.

Chinese Bidder Smashes $15,000 Bottle of French Wine in Failed Show of Patriotism (Rachel, August 27)

An unnamed bidder at a wine auction in China bought, then smashed, two bottles of French wine worth about US$15,000 each. His goal was to draw attention to Chinese domestic wine, which he deemed “priceless.” Netizens roared with laughter, not approval, calling the stunt a “stupid show.”

Chinese Writer Sarcastically Calls Americans “Foolish” For Being Honest, Generous (David Wertime, September 4)

On the cusp of U.S. Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to China, a post by an anonymous author criticizing the Americans as foolish, primitive, and naive went viral. But there was a twist: The essay was actually a hilarious, backhanded roast of China. If The Onion is seeking a China correspondent, it may wish to track this author down.

Chinese, Asked “Are You Happy,” Literally Cannot Believe It (Yueran Zhang, October 6)

With China’s National Congress approaching, the Communist Party was evidently keen to emphasize citizen happiness. The effort backfired when Central Television reporters, conducting interviews in which they asked citizens whether they were happy, elicited answers of intentional and unintentional hilarity. One migrant worker answered the question, “My surname is Zeng.” The question “are you happy?” rhymes with the question “is your surname Fu?”, and worker Zeng could apparently not believe he was actually being asked about his well being.

How to Fake It ‘Til You Make It in China (Xiaoying Zhou, October 23)

The editor-in-chief of the financial section of a Chinese newspaper had apparently had enough of the posturing all around him. He Jiangbing went online to offer nine steps to faking one’s expertise. TLN’s favorite has to be step #3: “Demand to speak first almost every time you’re at a meeting. After you speak, claim you have an appointment with the Prime Minister or the Vice Prime Minister, then leave.”

How to Stay out of Trouble in “Sparta” (Jan Cao, November 1)

With Beijing entering an Orwellian state of lockdown on the cusp of China’s leadership transition at its 18th National Party Congress, Web censors heightened their vigilance. But China’s endlessly creative Web users availed themselves of the Chinese language’s propensity for accidental homonyms, and began calling the 18th Congress (“shi ba da”) “Sparta” (“si ba da”). Suddenly, talk of Sparta and images from the movie 300 were all over the Chinese Internet, and it took some time for censors to realize what had hit them.

A Hilarious Coded Riff on China’s Government: “Going Shopping for the 18th Time” (Xiaoying Zhou, November 14)

In yet another deft move to dodge censorship of 18th Congress chatter, a student from Peking University wrote an essay about his spoiled, demanding, overweening girlfriend going shopping–as it happened, for the 18th time. The viral riff contained coded references to fallen politician Bo Xilai and even the United States.

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.