Political parables: talking around the censors

Perhaps one of the quintessentially Chinese qualities is making best of the worst. (Hey, you kind of learn after 5000 years of trying and still not finding one stable system of self-governance!). So, the Chinese part of me got to thinking this week that the upside of all the media censorship (which feels tighter, judging by regular interruptions to my Gmail access, with Xi at the helm) is the political humor. Cultural-linguistically, we Chinese have always been fond of riddles, metaphors, and parables. We don’t like to say what we mean directly. In “New China” (since 1949), that fondness for dressing up literal meaning has been reinforced by Big Brother listening to everything we say.

Photo credit: Kim Jong Ill Looking At Things blog

Lately, there have been many “political parables” – little stories that can pass off as children’s tales or other kinds of jokes – circulating on Weibo and Weixin. The velocity with which they get forwarded around and readers’ comments to them give me a glimpse into what my countrymen and -women think about the current state of domestic and international affairs.

One popular Weibo writer I’ve been following is purportedly Choi from Pyongyang. I want to say he writes satire – a kind of text version of the website Kim Jong Il Looking at Things – but sometimes his adulatory comments on “highest commander Kim” and all the authentic (-looking) photos of North Korea that he posts make me wonder if he isn’t a Chinese-fluent North Korean agent living somewhere secret. I’ll translate here a recent posting, which brought on >1000 comments from Chinese readers and 1500+ forwards:

A 6-year-old boy likes to throw rocks at birds, but he never gets them. His neighbor Big Brother Park taught him how to aim and he got the bird, just like the adults can. The boy was very happy but the villagers started to worry that they would get hit with his rocks. So they had a meeting about locking up the little boy in a dark room. Big Brother Park quickly raised his hand in support. But every adult knows that the baddest person around isn’t the boy, but that guy Park. My story is finished.

Maybe a Western audience wouldn’t think twice about this story, but 2500+ Chinese readers got the point. The blogger is talking about China, North Korea, and the UN/international community. While a few comments laud Pyongyang Choi for his creative writing, most Chinese readers comment by extending the parable:

They’re all bad birds… (Bravo for going nuclear, and down with Western imperialism?)

Big Brother Park is a bad egg indeed, two-faced…The little boy is also bad, never thinking about moving forward but always going against the tide, trying to take the village hostage, lying everyday. Why doesn’t he learn from his neighbor in the south but always taking lessons from that brother in the east? (We have a pro-West liberal on our hands it seems. This guy admonishes China and North Korea, and looks up to South Korea).

That’s because Big Brother Park later learned that the little boy is psychotic. He’s afraid it’ll infect all the other little kids. (China’s afraid of North Korea’s brand of conservative madness spreading to radical conservatives in China).

Just a sampling of the three reader comments above gives you an idea of the spectrum of political opinions among Chinese netizens. Skimming through the 1000+ comments, I have to say a significant portion seem to be “pro-China.” Readers aren’t naive, they know it’s a dirty game in international relations. But at least they’re sympathetic to the quandary their Big Brother Park is in…

Choice political humor and Chinese people’s assessment of domestic politics to come…


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