Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011...5:12 pm

Origin of the “Bin Laden is an Old Friend of the Chinese/American People” Joke

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A  joke is spreading on the Chinese Internet sphere in the form of a fake obituary, titled “Bin Laden: Old Friend of the Chinese People“, in some versions, “of the American People.”

It imitates the pretentious tone often seen in official Chinese obituaries of foreign leaders, starting with: “Comrades, we are gathered here today, solemnly and ceremoniously, to mourn, deeply and bitterly, the great soldier of terrorism…”

Of course, the Chinese leaders never acknowledged that Bin Laden has any kind of friendship with China. And the Chinese people have some mixed reactions to Bin Laden’s death – there are rejoicing as well as concerns. See a rundown here.

The joke reflects a sense among the Chinese netizens that they’ve been misrepresented by their government. And the way they express their discontent is through sarcasm. The Chinese officials have used the term “an old friend of the Chinese people” to call many foreign leaders despite what the Chinese people actually think. The list of over 600 “old friends” includes people like Edgar Snow, Henry Kissinger, Jacques Chirac and Antonio Samaranch, whom the Chinese people ( the ones who know who these people are) generally have a favorable impression about, but it also includes Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, Pervez Musharraf, to whom most Chinese would  respond: “WTF? When were we ever friends?”

As a result of the proliferated use of the term “old friend of the Chinese people” and the number of dictators on this list, Chinese netizens cannot be entirely sure whether someone was once termed an “old friend” or not. (real test of friendship here!) A good example is that recently, a number of Chinese press have refuted the wide spread “misunderstanding” that the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is also one of the “old friends.”

So what do all the “old friends” jokes tell us?

First and foremost, people are frustrated that not only their freedom of speech is strictly circumscribed in China, but also their voice has been hijacked by the authorities for political expediency.

Second,  Chinese officials have, historically, misused the term many times on foreign leaders proven to be not worthy of any friendship at all. The ideological struggle between socialism and capitalism was a thing of the past that the new leaders have difficulty in sweeping under the rug completely.

Third, in pointing out that the dictators (some of whom the Chinese officials have endorsed at one point) ended in failure, netizens who circulate these jokes feel a sense of defiance. Because they are evidence that dictators who treat their own people with an iron fist and leaders who rule with fear and intimidation will ultimately be toppled and condemned – a hint to the current Chinese authorities.

So this is the origin of the joke – probably not a good joke, but it’s meant to be sarcastic. Not every day do Chinese get a chance to make jokes at the expense of a fallen villain.

 

 

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