In communist countries, humor has been a weapon wielded by ordinary people to tell the truth in an environment filled with lies and to snatch some wry enjoyment, and even a measure of revenge, from ridiculing their masters.
When President Donald Trump responded with major new tariffs after Beijing backed out of a trade deal, netizens were ready to mock them in Chinese in posts that appeared on social media outside China, which those inside China can reach using special software.
One widely circulated dialogue vividly describes the back-and-forth nature of trade negotiations between the United States and China:
How the U.S.–China Trade Talks Evolved
Vice Premier Liu He: $5.
New China negotiator: $5.
People who have closely followed the trade talks can’t help but laugh at how this accurately summarizes the whole process.
Another joke goes like this:
“When do you think this feces-stirring stick of America will stop stirring?”
“When there are no more feces in the world!”
“Feces-stirring stick” in Chinese is used to refer to troublemakers in a very negative way, and in the Chinese Communist official media, the United States is often portrayed as a bully and a troublemaker. However, the author of this dialogue showed the problem wasn’t the “troublemaker,” but the trouble that had to be dealt with.
Here’s a third joke.
“How is the trade war affecting us?”
“It causes us to stand in the middle of the river, without being able to reach the other shore.”
“Because all the stones have been lifted by the Americans to smash their own feet, so there are no more stones in the river for us to ‘cross the river by groping for the stones.’”
This dialogue not only ridicules the Chinese official propaganda about the trade war, but also former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping’s famous description of China’s “openness and reform” policy—the policy meant to bring a more capitalist economy to China. Deng said implementing this policy would be like “crossing the river by groping for the stones.”
When the Trump administration first started to place tariffs on Chinese goods last year, Chinese official media said that by waging a trade war against the Chinese, “Americans are only lifting stones to smash their own feet.”
“China will win big, if it is a big war; China will win medium, if it is a medium-sized war; China will win small, if it is a small war,” the state-run media said.
A fourth joke goes like this:
“I heard that Huawei has lost the case about the 5G patent, and has to pay 300 billion in patent licensing fees per year. Why did Huawei lose that case?”
“Because there isn’t a Party branch in that court.”
This obviously mocks how Huawei has the Communist Party’s full support, but also how in China, all the courts must listen to the Communist Party’s orders.
In another post circulated on Facebook:
“I hope we can start a war with the United States immediately. If we win, America will be ours, and we won’t need a visa to travel to the United States anymore.
“If we lose, it is even better. We can become American citizens directly and enjoy the rights and benefits that a human being is entitled to.
“When will the war start? We ordinary Chinese people just cannot wait any longer!”
As for the Chinese propaganda that China will adopt “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” policy to retaliate against U.S. tariffs, Chinese netizens cleverly changed “a tooth for a tooth” to “a sprout for a tooth,” as in Chinese, the pronunciation of “sprout” and “tooth” is the same, which is “ya.”
With this clever twist of words, the Chinese netizens mock how the Chinese Communist Party isn’t really able to retaliate against the United States, given its weak economic situation, its dependence on the U.S. market and U.S. technology, and the huge trade imbalance between the United States and China.
Chinese netizens are also creating memes based on official propaganda images, and rewriting the lyrics of official propaganda songs to praise Trump saying that “Trump Is the Great Savior of the Chinese People,” “World Peace Relies on Trump,” and similar kinds of rewrites.