China Beat Archive



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April 17, 2009 in the China Beat


Copyright April 17, 2009. Used by permission.


(Part One) Understanding jokes in another language is often the highest test of fluency, based as they often are on puns and insider cultural knowledge. When Guo Qitao, professor of Chinese history at University of California, Irvine, mentioned to us that he collects clever Chinese jokes, we asked if he might share a few at China Beat. Even better–he offered to translate and gloss them. The first set we offer here are of jokes from the Cultural Revolution, a period when political rhetoric and in-fighting predominated in the public sphere. Through these jokes, we see the way that Chinese people skewered national political campaigns by punning their dogmatic rhetoric.

Translated and Glossed by Guo Qitao

(1) Something Is Missing

During the Cultural Revolution, all kinds of “bad elements” were punished for no reasons, and the ordinary people suffered a lack of necessary goods (food or materials). In the midst of the absolute poverty, the following rhyming couplet was posted:

One, two, three and five, Six, seven, eight and nine.

Horizontal coda: South & North