In Shanghai, The Jokes Are No Longer Funny

An essay tracing the evolution of Shanghai lockdown memes from giddy jests about Shanghai culture to gallows humor and gloomy meditations on the state of society was censored last week after going viral on Weibo. The essay, published on WeChat by ​​two authors 猫猫虎 and 山顶洞人 (aka catiger11), was part of a broader creative outpouring of politically tinged works that have taken China by storm in recent weeks. In one example, a national student poetry competition went viral on Weibo after a number of students submitted entries on generally taboo subjects such as Xiaohuamei, the war in Ukraine, and the death of Li Wenliang. “I’m surprised they came out in such a tightening environment where many poems depicting the dark sides of society, or defying the authorities’ general ideology, have been censored,” Chris Song, a professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, told The Washington Post. Another striking incident occurred late in the evening on Friday, April 22. “Voices of April,” a six-minute compilation of audio clips of Shanghai citizens in distress, went massively viral on WeChat, despite unequivocal censorship directives ordering the video erased, “leaving no gaps in coverage.” The essay is also a contribution to the growing body of pandemic humor that ridicules “Epidemic Prevention Hobbyists,” and, quite often, lockdowns. The essayists, unintentionally paraphrasing John Donne, warned against the impulse to wisecrack about lockdowns. “Before too long,” they wrote, “You will find the clown is thee.”  CDT has translated a selection of the 66 memes and jokes included in the essay “From Hilarity to Reflection: An Evolutionary History of Shanghai Lockdown Jokes,” as well as some reader reactions to the essay and to its subsequent censorship: 

Stage One: Hehehehe

imgA WeChat screenshot of the lockdown announcement with the comment: “They only gave Pudong residents four hours to stock up on food. They gave Puxi residents four days. I guess all the leaders live in Puxi.”

imgOnly Old Tan’s Pickled Cabbage & Beef Instant Noodles remain on the shelves of a cleaned out grocery store: “Shanghai residents’ last stand.”

imgShanghai residents show up for mandatory testing in style.

img“Jessica: Is it safe to eat sprouted potatoes?”
“Answer: In Shanghai it is. “

imgAn alarm clock set for the rumored best delivery times for four different delivery service companies: 5:56 Dingdong Maicai, 6:58 Freshippo, 21:00 Missfresh, 23:58 Meituan.


Stage Two: This Again?

imgI feel like we’re thinking about this all wrong.

Test result: Negative, test again.
Negative, test again.
Negative, test again.
Negative, test again.
Positive, OK, I can finally breathe.”

imgA framed collection of negative tests. 

img“My friend found true love in central quarantine. He’s dating someone in the field hospital.
“He says there are lots of new couples.
“He says when he’s working, he usually has no time for romance, so this is a pretty good opportunity, and he’s grateful to the nation.”
(row of laughing/crying emoji) “Guaranteed room, board, and a wife!”

imgFamous businessman Liu Run asks: “Does anyone in our compound want to learn about ‘Competitive Strategy’? I charge four eggs an hour.”


A “Big White” (a white-suited pandemic worker) has written a phrase in Shanghai dialect (“Messing around every day”) on the back of their PPE.


Stage Three: We Can’t Take It Anymore

Quarantine Hierarchy of Needs

The creme de la creme: Coca-Cola
The elite: cake & KFC
The middle class: chocolate, snail noodles, ice cream, Mandarin oranges, eggs, and beef jerky
The average joes: meat, eggs, milk, and bread
The poor: vegetables and rice 

Mother: “You lie every day, what will you do when you grow up, huh?”
Child: “I’ll be a politician.”

Text at bottom: “My brain tells me it’s true. My eyes tell me it’s true. It’s true.”

imgIf you’re sick, you’re sick. If you’re not sick, you’re not sick. There is no such thing as an “asymptomatic case.”

So if anyone brings up “asymptomatic cases,” tell them they’ve lost their mind. If they deny it, say they’ve got a case of “asymptomatic insanity”!


Stage Four: Reflection & Change

imgPersonally speaking, I’m an endorser of  Shanghai’s “zero-COVID” policy. I think everything about the policy is very good, but for one small hiccup: I’m currently in Shanghai. 


A reinterpretation of a line from Mao’s famous speech “The Foolish Old Man Who Moved Mountains,” where he perhaps best defined his belief in volunteerism and the ability of the masses to achieve any goal through sheer will—which later proved disastrous during The Great Leap Forward.

“I am resolute / and unafraid to sacrifice you. / You will surmount every difficulty / so that I may claim victory.” 

imgSuzhou’s PCR testing system broke down.
The government cursed the data center.
The data center cursed the developers.
The developers cursed the program managers.
The program manager cursed his programmers.
The programmers cursed their laid-off predecessors.
While the laid-off predecessors stood in line for their PCR test,
They cursed the testing system.
A perfect loop.

“Emblematic of ‘with Chinese characteristics’”


Speaking of bad things, this paragraph is getting passed around Shanghai media circles:

Curiously enough, the disasters of the so-called pandemic prevention policy prove that Shanghai was once an energetic, free, and wealthy city. Take a glance at the world. Every lockdown of a major cosmopolitan city failed, without exception. All successful lockdowns occurred in impoverished backwaters, again without exception. An open, diverse, wealthy society cannot flourish under military-style management. Which is to say that all of the “chaos” we see before us is powerful proof that Shanghai is not an ignorant, isolated, poor backwater. 


Netizen comments reached for historical analogies ranging from the Cultural Revolution to ancient dynastic history to describe the situation:

Acrm319:When I used to hear about the Cultural Revolution, I thought it was absurd—that is, until I lived to see 2022.

南街33号:This is how the history will be written: “A group of people with malevolent intentions tried to abduct the entire population of Shanghai and dragged the entire country down with them, all so that they could look good to their overlords.”

我使愿无违:In the past, the historical record was dependent on writers like Sima Qian, who is said to have concealed his writings in one of China’s famed mountains so that his collected wisdom could be passed down to future generations who might appreciate it. But given the present situation, we need a new way of phrasing this. Maybe instead of “concealing them in the famed mountain,” we could say “conceal them abroad, that their wisdom might be passed down to those who would appreciate it.” Not half bad.

鲁十五而志于学:😭😭😭 It’s been deleted. I wanted to read it again. [Chinese]


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