Satire allows young people to critique their government.
One of the eight rules drawn up last year by the Chinese government to emphasize ethics within the Communist Party states, “Love the country; do it no harm.” Shortly thereafter, a parody appeared on the Internet: “Love your Mercedes and BMW; do not ride a bicycle.” It was a dangerous attack on political corruption posted by someone within China’s borders. And yet the censorship committee did nothing. Why?
The attack was worded in an innovative way, using a language that is new for the Chinese: the language of satire. In this country, where humour is generally presented as simple slapstick style à la Mr. Bean, parody is a relatively unknown phenomenon. That’s why young people can stay under the radar of the censors in offering critiques of the government, such as praise for recent measures mandating good working conditions and health care—measures that were never implemented.
They call it egao, “evil work.” China Daily described these satires as a “subculture that is characterized by humour, revelry, subversion, grassroots spontaneity, defiance of authority, mass participation and multimedia high tech.” Some people see egao as a modern way of participating in a public debate that officially cannot be held in China.
A few cities are considering policies that would punish satire as slander. If so, a humorous remark could mean a stiff fine. But enforcing such a regulation would be difficult, even in China. After all, who determines what satire is? For the time being, intelligent satire remains an increasingly popular method of critiquing politics and society right under the nose of the censorship committee.