A Fleeting Satire in China
Two Chinese comedians, in a recent performance lauded by audiences and immediately censored by communist authorities, have gone where others dared not tread.
The bitterly satirical hour-long performance takes on a variety of social and political issues deemed “sensitive” by the ruling Communist Party, including the Tiananmen Massacre, intervention in Libya, and the lack of a social safety net in China.
In the videos posted online, live audience members can be heard laughing uproariously. Comments posted by netizens indicate that the performance broke new ground in making fun of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in such a public setting.
It has been an enforced taboo in China to publicly mock authorities, and in some cases individuals have been sentenced to reeducation through forced labor for sarcasm and insolence online.
“Haha, these two guys are really bold for saying those things, bless them; I wish they will be safe,” one user wrote. Another said, “Let’s see if they disappear in a few days. Wait and see.”
As online commentators anticipated in their praise, soon after the video was posted it was scrubbed clean from popular video websites in China.
The performance by Wang Zijian and Zhang Boxin, called “Crooked Singing Lyrics of Peace,” is a comedic art form called “xiangsheng.” Literally “face and voice,” xiangsheng was a rambunctious form of satire in the early 20th century in China. After the CCP took power in 1949 the art was made toothless as political commissars carried out “reforms” meant to dilute its ability to mock the authorities.
Wang, playing the funnyman, joked to Zhang, playing the straight man.
During the performance they noted that Gadhafi and Saddam had both taken military training in Taiwan, later carrying out a coup in their own countries. “Actually, if they wanted to learn how to spring a coup they should have gone to the other side of the strait!” Wang said, referring to how the Communist Party seized power.
At one point Wang pretended to be Gadhafi and said, “I again didn’t suppress students!” an obvious reference to the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4, 1989.
The Party’s political campaigns were also taken on. During the performance Wang said: “The celestial empire really did not starve anyone to death during the ’60s!” referring to the Great Leap Forward, which claimed 30 million lives due to starvation. Later he said, “No professors were persecuted, and the Beijing city wall has still not been taken down!” referring to the Cultural Revolution and the destruction of Chinese architectural relics.
Wang pretended to criticize the United States by saying that President Bush continued to retain control of the Central Military Commission—a communist Chinese institution—after stepping down from office; it was actually former regime leader Jiang Zemin who did that for two years after stepping down in 2002.
One online commentator calling himself Noble Foolish Dreamer said, “These are ordinary people like you and I. They don’t need to perform this to make a living, and they’re clear that it will come back to them—but they still dare to say it, that’s courage! Aren’t you and I ashamed?”
Another commenter, 9th Mahjong Tile said, “This is xiangsheng that resonates with the post-’80s generation. The thinking of the masses has already changed. This is the foundation for popular revolt.”
Quincy Yu contributed research.