Pollution in China? Douse it with jokes

BEIJING • A Beijing driver calls a radio station in panic. The smog is so thick he shot through five red lights because he could not see properly and wants to know what to do.

"It's fine, the smog is so bad nobody could see your licence plate," the host reassures him, in a joke circulating on Chinese social media.

As large parts of northern China suffer bad air pollution, Chinese people are taking to the Internet with gallows humour to cope with the thick blanket of smog.

Restrictions on daily life, such as an odd-even licence plate system to halve the number of cars on the road, have been a particular focus.

In another joke, US President Barack Obama angrily throws an intelligence report on the table, wanting to know what sort of advanced weapon system could cause Beijing to evade satellite surveillance.

He asks a collection of superheroes, including Iron Man, Batman and the Hulk, who can help, but they all hang their heads in shame.

"Optimus Prime can do it! He doesn't need to breathe," says Wolverine, recommending the robot that can turn into a truck in the Hollywood movie Transformers, which is wildly popular in China.

But Optimus Prime answers: "My licence plate is restricted today" - referring to the odd-even system.

While most jokes cannot be judged as politically sensitive, a few offer indirect criticism of perceived government inaction.

One joke lists ways to deal with the pollution. "Individual therapy: put a mask on. Family therapy: buy health insurance. If you have money and the time: go on holiday. If you've no class: emigrate. National therapy: wait for the wind."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Pollution in China? Douse it with jokes'. Print Edition | Subscribe