Some Chinese, especially those in China, have no concpets of western humor and their interpretation could be unexpected. Satire can be interpreted as personal attack and self mocking can be interpreted as some crazyness.

How do you use the language to make some jokes that are considered okay and actually make them laugh?

Is making jokes the wrong approach to make friends with Chinese? How do you make friends with Chinese using the language?


A difficult question! In China, people of different ages, doing different jobs, having different hobbies may all find their own senses of humor. Many that the young finds laughable may not sound funny at all in an elder's ears.

There is, however, cultural gap between China and the West in the sense of humor.

  1. We don't think clumsiness, backfiring, trouble making, etc. are funny, as in many 'try not to laugh challenge' on YouTube. On the contrary, they are boring even annoying.

  2. We sense humor in quick wit response, contradiction of words and action (in a funny way), unexpected turning of a story, etc. We call a piece of organized passage aiming at making people laugh 段子. 段子 are often based on something heated on the Internet, which is called 梗 (originating from 哏). People will laugh when you cleverly use a 梗, which is called 玩梗, but they are short lived, once they lost popularity, you seem silly to 玩老梗 (using an old fashioned 梗 to make a joke). And netizens will banter you with something like: “日本投降矣!” “北京申奥成功了!” “你也在网上冲浪?” (They are all very old events or old fashioned wording.)

It s not easy to define the criteria of funny or not. Arhh, it has been so long since I last laughed at mere text. Nowadays jokes are all in the forms of pics, gifs, and videos mixed with texts. In daily life, people don't talk jokes to ease the atmosphere, instead they talk about funny things they experienced, or funny news they heard.

  • thanks for your insights. I know there are 段子 in China but it seems it requires some specific cultural background in order to understand it. On the other hands, humor in talk shows in the west seem require less piror knownledge for audience to understand. – wada Oct 24 '19 at 23:37
  • and I agree younger generations seem to understand western humor better, but the majority of Chinese people seem to have a different logic about what's funny, that I don't know of. You did give some important views about what funny means in China. I'll rephrase the question or ask a new more specific question later – wada Oct 24 '19 at 23:38
  • Could you clarify who "we" refers to please? – Becky 李蓓 Oct 25 '19 at 11:50
  • @Becky李蓓 'We' refers to young, well educated college students(●°u°●)​ 」 – Toosky Hierot Oct 25 '19 at 14:50
  • isn't it the same as in America? A lot of the talkshows I have no clue at all. :) – sylvia Oct 27 '19 at 22:57

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