HomeAsiaComedy and autocracy are made for each other

Comedy and autocracy are made for each other

Last month, Beijing police launched a criminal investigation against comedian Li Haoshi, who goes by House, after he angered the public with a joke some said compared wild dogs to People’s Army soldiers. de Liberación “capable of winning battles,” prompting a nationwide wave of cancellations of other artists, particularly acts from abroad. In a recent commentary for RFA Mandarin, American jurist Teng Biao says that totalitarian regimes are the main source of comedic material and explains why the ruling Chinese Communist Party sees comedy as an existential threat.:

Tyranny is one of the main producers of jokes, because autocracy itself is a joke. Those who hold power without winning an election need to rewrite history and whitewash reality, to maintain a perfect image of glory and greatness.

In 1966, the People’s Daily reported on Mao Zedong’s swim in the Yangtze River. He claimed that the 73-year-old Mao had broken the world record, even after making deductions for the effects of the flowing river.

More recently, the Red Guards are back, the White Guards (the enforcers of COVID-19) are here, and we have ongoing farm management and conversion of forests to farmland.

FaceBook page of the stand-up comedy company Xiaoguo Comedy. Credit: RFA FaceBook screenshot

When the population is 800 million people are limited to one child per couple. When it reaches 1.4 billion, we can have three. What is all this about?

A diplomat speaking to the French media “does not represent the official opinion”.

There is a real name registration system for kitchen knives, and the police are willing to travel to Thailand to kidnap a man for publishing some gossip books about Xi Jinping, whose portrait now hangs in temples and churches across the country.

Winnie the Pooh is banned, and President Xi carried 200 pounds of wheat without even shifting to his other shoulder.

Isn’t anyone laughing by now?

Jokes dissolve tyranny. Comedy and autocracy are made for each other. Despotism has to present itself as pompous, serious, truthful, powerful and inviolable.

And the gods, the emperors, wealth, the ‘truth’, traditions and customs, science, traditional customs, are all material for the mill of satire, ridicule and parodies.

Stand-up has been described as “the art of offense,” but under a totalitarian regime, it’s deadly.

Comrade George Orwell, who saw the underpants of the totalitarian system many years ago, used to say that every joke is a small revolution.

The late Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo once wrote: “Political jokes that people tell each other in private represent the consciousness of the silent majority and show us how rotten the foundations of post-totalitarian rule among the public in general. “

When we’ve all seen the emperor strutting down the street stark naked, a laugh is even more subversive than a child telling the truth.

A joke that doesn’t cause fights or trouble is not a joke at all.

That is why the censorship of jokes is endless under authoritarian regimes.

Notice of show cancellations is posted next to locked doors at the show venue of stand-up comedy troupe Xiaoguo Culture Media Co which went out of business in Beijing, China, on May 19, 2023. Tingshu Wang/Reuters
Notice of show cancellations is posted next to locked doors at the show venue of stand-up comedy troupe Xiaoguo Culture Media Co which went out of business in Beijing, China, on May 19, 2023. Tingshu Wang/Reuters

Stand-ups, skits, duet comedy, and other types of comedy have almost completely lost their ability to offer political or social criticism under the Chinese Communist Party, because even social commentary can turn political.

So most comedians avoid them entirely and limit their material to marriage, family, men and women, or celebrities.

And they are hitting harder and harder, targeting those weaker than themselves, with the poor, farming communities, blue-collar workers and the disabled being the most common targets.

Ugly people, ethnic minorities, women, the elderly and blacks are also discriminated against.

There are even skits and comedy duos that adhere to the “main theme” of the Communist Party and praise the government, high-ranking officials, celebrities, and the rich and powerful.

Under a dictatorship, the consequences of complaining about those in power are serious.

The Thought Police are always alert and are very capable of winning battles.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

The opinions expressed here are Teng’s own and do not reflect the position of Radio Free Asia.

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