A collection of 40 jokes about China’s “zero-COVID policy” and its enforcers was posted by @丁逸峰 on Zhihu, the popular Chinese question-and-answer site. Many are styled in the grand tradition of “Soviet Jokes,” which have, at times, been censored on Weibo. (For an indigenous reference, see these Cultural Revolution jokes.) The majority of the jokes target “Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists” Fángyì Àihàozhě 防疫爱好者, a derisive term for the volunteer army mobilized by the state to police their neighbors’ adherence to anti-COVID measures. The jokes skewer their rumored corruption, abuse of power, and blinkered focus on the virus over other, more imminent, dangers. Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists’ input on who quarantines for how long—and the half-in-jest, wholly-in-earnest remarks about their willingness to abuse it—explains the overly deferential attitude of their interlocutors that serves as the basis for many of the punchlines. Other jokes imply that those committed to China’s “zero-COVID” policy are motivated less by public health than by their own wallets, which can be padded by lucrative connections to quarantine facilities, to name but one example. CDT has translated a selection to illustrate China’s rich underground political language:
What is bliss?
It’s when you get a knock on the door in the middle of the night and a team of stern-looking Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists tell you: “Mr. Doggie Wang, you’ve been marked by ‘spatial-temporal proximity’ as a close contact. You must quarantine at a hotel of our choice for 14 days, at your own expense, payment due immediately in one lump sum.”
“Comrades, you’ve got it wrong. Doggie Wang lives across the hall.”
A working stiff is riding a crowded subway on the way to his 9-5 when the passenger next to him asks:
“Excuse me, are you an Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist?
“Well, do you have any family working at the Epidemic Prevention Office?”
“Then please move your foot. You’re stepping on me.”
During a town hall meeting, the moderator asks the crowd to divide into two groups: “Those who wish to continue the ‘dynamic zero’ policy in order to prevent more infections, please sit on the left. Those who wish to try ‘living with the virus’ in order to make a bit more money, please sit on the right.”
Someone pipes up: “What about those who wish to preserve ‘dynamic zero’ AND earn more money? Where should they sit?”
“Am I correct in assuming that you’re an Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist, sir?” the moderator says hurriedly. “In that case, please come sit up here on the rostrum.”
A member of the public goes up to an Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist and asks, “How long must I be quarantined for this time?”
“According to the regulations: 28 days.”
“But I’ve got a green code!”
“You’re lying. A true green code would only have to quarantine for 14 days.”
An old man walking along a river accidentally slips and falls into the water, and begins shouting for help.
Two Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists hear his cries, but ignore them and stroll on by, chatting and laughing as before.
In his distress, the old man has a burst of inspiration and yells, “I’m a close contact!”
Upon hearing this, the two Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists leap into the river, pull the old man onto the bank, and haul him off to quarantine.
A young man posts on WeChat using the old saying, “when you ride a tiger it’s hard to dismount.” As a result, he gets hauled off to quarantine by an Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist. The young man tries to defend himself, arguing: “But I didn’t say who was stuck riding the tiger!”
“I’ve been doing epidemic prevention work for three years now,” roars the Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist. “You think I don’t know who is stuck riding the tiger?”
“Can we dispatch Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists to Russia, so that the Russians can learn from our country’s experience fighting the virus?”
“Sure we can. But what have the Russians ever done to you that you want to get back at them like that?”
A cadre finds mice in his office and asks his secretary to come up with a plan to exterminate them.
The secretary suggests they hire an Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist to work in the office: that way, half the mice will starve to death from a lack of supplies, and the other half will do anything they can to escape.
“Why are all epidemic prevention teams made up of three people?”
“There’s a professional logic to it. One person knows medicine, another gauges public sentiment, and you’ve got to have an Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist to keep those two normal people in check!”
CDT also collected and translated a selection of responses to the jokes:
马孔多001：Haha, thinking back on my own experience… I’m crying with laughter.
名叫马丁的熊猫：Classic, precise, essential.
AlexYuH：Soviet Jokes never get old.
弆韹弇揂刣廞：In the year 2030, an Epidemic Prevention Hobbyist goes to church to confess his sins. The pastor asks,
“What sins have you committed?”
The Hobbyist says, “I forcibly quarantined a family of COVID patients.”
“That counts as a good work, you haven’t sinned,” the priest replies.
“The issue is …” the Hobbyist admits, “…they’re still locked in my basement to this day, paying me room and board.”
单车周边：[The joke about dismounting from the tiger] is way too fanciful. The average Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists are all terrified of putting their money where their mouth is. You’ll never see them on the front lines of the pandemic.
卡卡：I know people on an Epidemic Prevention Supervision Squad. Every day they cruise around their city looking for a couple of epidemic prevention stations to photograph and then call it a day. Even when other work units have to pause their work due to a lack of funds, they [the Supervision Squad] always get the first dibs on pandemic subsidies. After all, who would dare deny the Supervision Squad money? [Chinese]