How to Use Chinese Jokes and Humor (Like a Native Pro)

Updated on June 5, 2019

If you are a westerner or simply not familiar with Chinese culture at all, you may be / may have been confused by Chinese humor. Even when translated for foreigner ears, the best Chinese jokes can seem oddly cold, sarcastic, or tame to the uninitiated. So what gives....isn't humor a universal thing.

In this case, no. If you study Chinese, you begin to realize that China developed under unique historical and cultural circumstances. These circumstances have molded the Chinese people's appetite for humor. As a result, you will see differences between Chinese and Western humor that seem irreconcilable.

Thankfully, you will also see some commonalities between Chinese and Western humor that make cross-cultural hilarity possible. Overall, the aim of this analysis is to demystify some of the nuances of Chinese comedy while exposing westerners to a rich comedy heritage. Now, let's get started.

Things The Chinese DO NOT Joke About

To truly understand and appreciate the differences between Western and Chinese humor, it's important to understand what subject matter the Chinese people often refuse to joke about (and why).

Family and Ancestors:

Chinese culture is very family-focused. And by extension, ancestry and taking pride in ones ancestry is seen as a very good thing. Therefore, Chinese comedy tends to stay clear of ancestry or lineage of specific people (or general groups of people).

Politics & The Government:

For Americans (and westerners in general) criticizing and joking about governments and politicians is commonplace. Free speech and individual rights generally protect people from retaliation. However, in China criticism of the government can get you into big trouble. It is best to just avoid this subject altogether.

Personal Life / Romantic Relationships:

Romantic relationships are considered very personal and private to the average Chinese citizen. Making jokes about a specific person's relationship is considered rude; particularly if you do not know the other person very well.

Miànzi 面子 & Diūliǎn 丢脸:

A very important concept in Chinese society is face (面子 - Miànzi). Though you will hear many definitions of what face actually is from Chinese people; the most complete and yet concise definition I have heard to date is the following: "Face is the self-esteem somebody feels and the way in which they feel they are viewed by the groups that they belong to."

Following this is the idea of losing face (丢脸 - Diūliǎn). Causing someone to lose face in front of others is a serious personal offense in China. Therefore, your comedy should never EVER cause someone to lose face in front of others. This is probably why you will never see a comedy roast in China as you often see in the west.

Types of Chinese Jokes /Humor:

Irony (Especially of the Depressing Sort):

Irony is used as a comedic device in various cultures around the world. And the same holds true for China. However, it is worth noting that the type of irony that is popular in China (especially among the younger generations) is often of the dark and slightly depressing variety. It seems to have caught on with Chinese millenials as a result of recent global recession. Here is an example of this depressing irony taken from a Chinese blog post about a young chinese man creating his first bank account:


Translation: "Why should I worry about setting up a bank card password? I gotta come up with 6 digits to protect a single-digit deposit!" [ref. 1]

Chinese Puns, Puns and more Puns:

Our next category of chinese language joke can most accurately described as the "obsessive use of puns." In many western cultures, puns are seen as cheesy and dated. They are reminiscent of something your grandpa would say to get a chuckle out of you. However, the Chinese take puns to a whole other level. Below is a quick example:

医院院长因股市暴跌跳楼,好容易被抢救过来。 家人纷纷围在床前,问他想要什么,他虚弱地回答:“我…只…想…要…沪市...涨。”。他老婆一耳光打过去 “我一直怀疑你和护士长有关系,到死还想着她!”

Translation: After a stock market crash, the director of a hospital decides to jump off the building, but, seeing as it’s a hospital, he’s easily rescued. His family members gather around his bed, and ask him if he wants anything. He weakly answers “I… only… want… for the… Shanghai… stock market (沪市 - hùshì) to go… up (涨 - zhǎng). His wife immediately slaps him in the face “I've always thought you were having an affair with the head nurse (护士长 - hùshizhǎng)! Even when you’re about to die all you think about is her!" [ref. 2]

Obviously to completely understand this joke you need a detailed-enough understanding of the Chinese language. But this is exactly why puns are so popular in China. The Chinese language is full of homonyms (words that sound alike but have different meanings). And there are literally thousands of homonyms that a Chinese language jokester has at their disposal to make people laugh.

"chinese crosstalk duo"
"chinese crosstalk duo" | Source

Crosstalk (相声 - Xiàngsheng):

No discussion about Chinese language jokes or joke-making is complete without mention of Crosstalk. Crosstalk is a traditional Chinese comedic performance style whose current form dates back to the 1800s (during the late Qing Dynasty). This comedic form is usually performed by a duo (such as the two performers seen in the above picture). However, in rarer circumstances crosstalk performances can be performed by solo individuals or a larger group (3+ people).

The kind of humor employed in Crosstalk tends to rely heavily on puns, absurdities and allusions to the ridiculous. A great example of Crosstalk that you may have seen floating around the internet is a dialogue between Ma Sanli & Wang Fengshan, a performance dating back tot the 1970's. [See the video below:]

While similar in some ways to stand-up comedy in the West Crosstalk is generally stays true to the Chinese traditions of "saving Face" and voracious use of chinese homonyms. In fact, for many years Crosstalk has been considered a generally safe way for Chinese entertainers to talk about the government and society in general. However, there have been many times during the past century when Crosstalk artists and performers have been suppressed for the purpose of censorship and control. For example, during China cultural revolution; Crosstalk was almost completely suppressed.


Chinese Humor / Chinese Jokes & Modernity:

In truth, aspects of American and Western culture have had an impact on the Chinese entertainment landscape. This is especially apparent online where Chinese netizens are more familiar with the vulgarities, sarcasm and brazenness of Western-style comedic devices. For instance, online you may occasionally see (immature) Chinese web users use the term "草泥馬 (cào nǐ mā)" - a term whose characters literally mean "horse made from mud and grass", as a tongue-in-cheek homophone (pun) for the much more vulgar "肏你媽 (cào nǐ mā)" - a term which means "f*@k your mother.

The world of funny Chinese language jokes is evolving; and with this evolution I believe we are increasing our cross-cultural consciousness and understanding. It's a brave new world. Hope your ready.


1.) Sang Culture: Behind Young People Resistance To The World:

2.) Go East!: Professional Chinese Language Learning; Black Humor In China --


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Justin Muir profile imageAUTHOR

      Justin Muirhead 

      2 years ago from New York

      Thanks Paul Joseph. And also thanks Liz Westwood, I guess every culture has a little quirky twist to their brand of humor. I personally like British humor and wit every time I encounter it.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      2 years ago from UK

      This is interesting. In the past I have noticed cultural differences between French and English humour.

    • Paul Dickens profile image

      Paul Joseph 

      2 years ago from India

      Good job. And a rare piece of literature. I have never thought of such a subject. I appreciate your research


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)