CDT has long celebrated irreverent online humor in China, commissioning and publishing cartoons, translating thousands of comments, and compiling the Grass Mud Horse Lexicon as a reference guide to political online slang. The Lexicon’s often darkly humorous wordplay can help evade censorship, and give vivid expression to politically "unharmonious" views. On the other hand, as Citizen Lab’s Jason Q. Ng has warned, it may divide and isolate resistance voices, alienating a potentially wider audience that is not privy to its encoded meanings.
In a recent WeChat post, YouShanDaBu (游山打捕) expressed another reservation about online humor as a response to news events, which he sees as having widely "jettisoned ‘resistance’" and descended into empty, hopeless cynicism. While resignation may be understandable as the government systematically closes other avenues for resistance, YouShanDaBu argues that the tendency to immediately fall back on cynical mockery surrenders any remaining opportunity, becoming "a kind of acquiescence or propaganda." He focuses particularly on biǎoqíng bāo (表情包), or "emoji packs"—collections of facial expression images that have become a common characteristic of online conversation in China. Satire has its place, he writes, but should rest on a solid foundation of more sober expression and commitment to truth and accountability.
A new set of rules called the "Regulations for [Online] Group Moderation" was recently released. The general idea is that responsibility for these groups is borne by their founders and moderators. This is unconstitutional and extremely harmful to freedom of speech; moreover, this kind of archaic "collective punishment" is deeply shameful in modern eyes.
One rule, together with news about group moderators being detained, blew up in an instant. For the past few days it’s been unbearable, with all kinds of related jokes and screenshots flying around: constantly dropping socialist core values into conversation, or joking that replacement moderators abroad cost 10 yuan each, etc.
There’s also been a buzzing swarm of well-intentioned banter about them rounding up all group moderators over the last several days.
It’s disgusting to see, almost to the point of causing an actual physiological reaction and making me throw up. There are some things I really need to get off my chest.
These "jokes" I’m talking about crop up after many big events: they have no interest in facts or accountability, but just run straight for the wisecracks. Chronically poisonous smog has produced a number of these posts in recent years.
Due to the poor quality of our foundation as a society, I firmly oppose these jokes. Because if no one can recognize, analyze and discuss the issues, the jokes have no value whatsoever in terms of addressing them. More accurately, they’re even counterproductive.
The situation can be described in three phases:
In the beginning, we developed mockery as a kind of resistance, or a way to fight back. Jokes possess great potential to deconstruct authoritarianism and puncture falsehoods. But a precondition for this is that there is a discussion going on regarding the matters and issues at hand, and that there already exists a struggle for resistance.
Because no such thing exists, the constant jokes have now entered a decidedly messed-up phase. They have jettisoned the "resistance." Through mockery, signaling where they stand, sharing of posts and snickering with glee, people are just blowing off steam, making themselves feel better. At this point, satire is in trouble. It’s just cynicism, a prevailing currency of opinion.
Tragically, our current situation is even worse than cynicism. Nihilism and utilitarianism are mixed into this kind of public expression, a kind of expression that consists only of emoji packs. In reality, we are using "jokes" to conform to outside pressure and assimilate official discourse. Jokes have become a kind of acquiescence or propaganda, which in turn has led to unified thinking.
There are very few people who still believe these posts have any resistance potential left in them. A lot of people with clearer understanding have realized that these posts are just expressions of cynicism. There’s no meaning behind them. But very few people understand that, today, these posts are a kind of cut-by-cut self-mutilation. Starting from one’s own damaged brain, everyone chucklingly shares the brain damage around, making everyone else’s worse.
This "Group Moderator" issue is a classic example. As people use these jokes, screenshots, and quips in group discussion, every one of them tacitly accepts the new rules: everyone propagates and attaches importance to them. By poking fun at the moderators, they are also persuading them to get in line. And then everyone’s thinking becomes unified.
Everyone shuts up, and helps you cover your own mouth.
So, as you can see, the state has accomplished propaganda through these "jokes." It has successfully managed and unified thought. Is this magic? You bet it is!
Use your emoji packs enough, and your brain will turn into an emoji brain–like those airheads with two blades of grass inserted into their hair. Morons. The brain of someone who deals in too many of these jokes has cracks all over. Everyone in all of these groups is sharing and admiring each others’ brain damage, while keeping one another nice and warm and comfortable.
Before, "chilling effects" induced silence. Nowadays, they produce jokes and mirth instead. After all, human society has moved forward over the years, has it not?
Alright, no more sarcasm. Right now, I oppose all of this frivolous expression for reasons like those above. In the public arena, we must learn how to express ourselves. We must be solemn. Only on this foundation can we truly have "satire." If we cannot establish fundamental common sense and basic expression, then "satire" is nothing but emoji packs. Our lives will be full of it.
And nothing else.
Translated by Little Bluegill.