Weibo Censors Genie Joke for Wishing You-Know-What on You-Know-Who

Sometimes, it’s the censors who imbue a joke with political power. Earlier this week, Weibo user @怪以德服人猫’s account was deleted for violating Weibo policy. Their likely violation? A joke, described by some netizens as “very Soviet,” that could mean whatever the reader or listener wants it to mean—thus implicitly implicating the censors who read something nefarious into it, and decided to take it down. Here is CDT’s translation of the joke

While out and about on vacation, I stubbed my toe on something. Upon closer inspection, I saw it was a bronze lamp. It was smudged, so I picked it up and gave it a good wipe—and out popped a genie!

The genie said it could grant me any wish. 

“Is that so?” I said. “Well then, could you make you-know-who you-know-what?” 

No sooner had the words escaped my lips than the genie rushed over, clamped my mouth shut, and asked: “Are we even allowed to say that?” [Chinese]

In the original Chinese, the “you-know-who you-know-what” line is even vaguer. A more literal translation would be “what-what-what what-what-what,” or “blah-blah-blah blah-blah-blah.” The exact punchline is beside the point—the joke’s obscurity invites the reader to insert their own taboo political commentary—but the distribution of characters could easily be read to mean “Xi Jinping hurry up and die,” or “CCP, step down from power soon,” or some similar politically explosive line.

Comments left below the Weibo post noted slyly that it was “very political.” One Weibo user made an oblique reference to the 2022 White Paper Protests: “You think that just because you’re holding up a blank piece of paper that we don’t know what you meant to say?” In response, another commenter joked, “Ban the production of A4 paper!” One comment cautioned, “Beware of foreign lamps,” an allusion to government paranoia about “hostile foreign forces.” Another sarcastically added, “Reported. Don’t think we don’t know what you meant to say.” Yet another paraphrased the punchline to ask: “Are we allowed to laugh at that?”

The joke was soon censored and @怪以德服人猫’s account apparently banned—an unusually harsh penalty, indicating that censors may have read the worst into the “you-know-who you-know-what” line. Of course, by banning the joke and its author, censors merely proved the punchline. This is not the first time that “Soviet-style” jokes have become Chinese realities.

It also illustrates the rise of increasingly abstract modes of political humor in response to vigilant censorship of political content on Chinese social media. In 2022, a leak of internal content-moderation documents from social media platform Xiaohongshu listed 564 variant nicknames (using “typos” or alternative characters) for Xi Jinping. More recently, the arrow emoji combination ↗️↘️↗️ , which has been used to represent the tones of the three characters in Xi Jinping’s name (Xí Jìnpíng), has reportedly become a “sensitive word” subject to censorship.


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