The Death of Laughter in China

The hatred of human joy and happiness that resides within the heart of the totalitarian mind is once again on prominent display -- this time in communist China, where Guo Degang, a beloved Chinese comic, has been viciously silenced by the tyrants at large. The Marxist despotism knows all too well that the prerequisite for enslaving man is to purge him of any human impulse or trait that can spawn a smile, or worse, a cheerful laugh.

Guo Degang is renowned among the Chinese people for his use of his culture’s popular xiangsheng, or “cross talk” -- a traditional Chinese comedic performance art that blends stand-up comedy rich in puns, poetry, and allusions with a quick, bantering style. Degang’s performances were full of critical and mocking sarcasm, directed not only at himself and at the Chinese as a whole, but also at the communist regime and its rulers. He also sprinkled in an earthly sexual humor, which was finally, all too much to bear for the totalitarian puritanism of the regime. And so, in recent weeks, the government embarked on a Iranian-style "Anti-Vulgarity Campaign" -- a crackdown on what President Hu Jintao calls the "three vulgarities": sex-obsessed, mindless, and tasteless culture. Degang has become the poster casualty of that purge.

The torch-carriers for Mao Tse-tung’s Red Guards have seen to it that Degang’s CDs and books have been purged from all of Beijing’s store shelves. The comedian’s website has been repeatedly hacked so badly that he had to temporarily shut it down. The country’s media has launched a smear campaign against the comedian, making all kinds of defamatory accusations, which include financial corruption, non-payment of fellow comedians, and the seduction of married women. The authorities have shut down his comedy clubs and squashed his media appearances. Degang himself remains out of sight and the Chinese people do not dare utter his name.

The Chinese regime is clearly teaching its people a stern lesson: Don’t only stay clear of criticizing the rulers, but stifle in yourself the desire to laugh. Degang’s audiences roared with laughter. That was a problem. Humor knows no boundaries and is a deadly enemy of the totalitarian state.

There was a reason why Mao criminalized humor. The greatest mass murderer in world history understood how to run a killing machine well. That’s why his butchers criminalized “speaking weird words” -- which involved anything from asking strange questions to articulating dissatisfaction to making any kind of wisecrack. These offenses would get one classified as a spy -- the consequences of which were obvious.

For every true leftist believer -- whether in power or struggling for power -- the reality of human joy poses a lethal threat. People who are happy might not quite fully grasp the need for a bloody revolution. In the eyes of the radical who seeks to disinfect the earth from its impurities, experiencing amusement means succumbing to the false consciousness that anti-socialist forces try to induce into humans to distract them from the constant vigilance that is required to perfect a revolution through terror. That is why Vladimir Lenin adamantly refused to listen to music, since, as he explained, “it makes you want to say stupid, nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell.” For the mass-murdering Bolshevik leader, violent revolution was the priority -- a priority endangered by the positive emotions music could induce.

And it is no wonder that other totalitarian systems have practiced Lenin’s dictum. Islam, for instance, has always obediently followed this same human-hating value system. Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Muslim radical and Muslim Brotherhood theorist who became one of the godfathers of Islamism, personified Islam’s hatred of humor and happiness well. Living in Colorado from 1948 to 1950, he was enraged by Americans’ interest in having “a good time” and “fun.” He despised all the comforts of modern American life. He was particularly repulsed by a dance he witnessed after a church service. He writes with horror: “The dancing intensified. ... The hall swarmed with legs. ... Arms circled arms, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of love.”