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Getting a Sense of Chinese Humour





It is often said that our sense of humour is largely determined by our cultural backgrounds. If that is indeed the case, then surely the common Chinese perception of what is funny tends to be quite different from elsewhere in the world. Even comparing the countries in Europe and the Americas, there are massive variations between the types of comedy one tends to find both in everyday life and on TV.


So broadly speaking, how does Chinese humour compare to that of other nations? Well first of all, there are some similarities between the typical Chinese sense of humour and that of other people around the world. For instance, the British and Chinese both often take advantage of how relatively easy one can make clever puns with their respective languages.


On the other hand, it is fair to say that most of the topics covered in general Chinese comedy routines are very different to those which tend to feature heavily in the UK or the US, for instance. Jokes revolving around subject matters such as sex, relationships, mothers, foolish people and celebrities, that usually comprise a significant chunk the western comedian’s repertoire, are rarely brought to the table in China. Additionally, irony and jokes surrounding modern applications of ancient proverbs tend to be favoured over sarcasm and slapstick.


Interestingly, one of the big themes in modern Chinese comedy is the country’s superrich. This may have something to do with the tremendous gap between rich and poor which has emerged here over the last couple of decades. Here is one typical example quoted in an article by Riho Laurisaar:

Chinese son: “Dad, I have a problem. I just came to Germany, but I can't seem to fit in. I am the only kid in my class who drives a Benz to school. My classmates take the train”.
Chinese father: “It's okay, I just transferred five million euros to your account. Go buy a train”.


But of course, not all Chinese comedians conform to the mainstream humour of their country. The most famous example is popular Chinese comedian Joe Wong. In recent years this young stand up specialist has developed a great following in the US but is still not very appreciated in his native country. Despite the fact that Wong was born and raised in China, his jokes are about as dry and witty as you would expect from a stand up comedian in the English speaking parts of Europe and North America.


We’ll conclude this short article with a segment from one his most memorable stand up performances:

Hi, I’m Irish.

锛 My name is Joe Wong, but to most people I seem to be known as “who?”, which is actually my mother’s maiden name and the answer to my credit card security question! (Hu)

锛 I grew who in China, who didn’t?

锛 My childhood memories have been totally ruined by my childhood! I grew up right next to a quarry where they use explosives to break rocks, which is where I first learned that light travels faster than sound!


By Josh Cooper

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