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.”
Here we see the totalitarian puritanism that has always been forcibly imposed on people in totalist regimes. Maoist China and Stalinist Russia viciously de-sexualized their societies and the reason they did so is directly connected to why Guo Degang has been gagged.
Like Lenin, Qutb also reviled music, deeming it a distraction from the furious hatred necessary for destruction. He was stunned at the church dance he attended when the American pastor lit the lights, creating “a romantic, dreamy effect,” and played a popular record of the time: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Qutb hated this song, just as he hated all American popular music. “Jazz is the favorite music,” he writes. “It is a type of music invented by Blacks to please their primitive tendencies and desire for noise.”
Qutb’s rejection of this form of creative expression goes back to the beginning of Islam. Umdat al-Salik, the Islamic legal manual, quotes Muhammad:
"Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance.
"On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress. Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage.
"This Community will experience the swallowing up of some people by the earth, metamorphosis of some into animals, and being rained upon with stones." Someone asked, “When will this be, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said, “When songstresses and musical instruments appear and wine is held to be lawful.
"There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful."
The Ayatollah Khomeini’s rejection of music -- like the Prophet Muhammad’s and Qutb’s -- was directly connected to his revulsion of any form of cheer or joy in human life. He explained:
Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.
And so, it is clearly evident why communist China closed down Degang’s comedy clubs and why such clubs are non-existent any place where Islamic law is in effect. In Islam, laughter is intensely discouraged, and is actually forbidden for women -- especially young girls. Author Nawal El Saadaw remembers that, growing up in Egypt, “If I laughed, I was expected to keep my voice so low that people could hardly hear me, or better, confine myself to smiling timidly.” When Souad, the Palestinian survivor of an attempted honor killing, was flown to Switzerland, she was shocked to find females dressing as they wished, smiling and laughing without being punished, and having people actually say “thank you” to her -- which had not happened once in her entire life in Palestinian society.
Despotisms are well aware that joy and cheer are uncontrollable ingredients in the soul of man; they touch the face of the divine. No communist or Islamic tyrant can contain laughter’s boundaries or force it to mean what the totalitarian wills it to mean. And so, under the chains of revolution, within the Utopian experiment to sterilize the earth with human blood in order to redeem it, humor can only be subversive. The powerful seditious energies laughter unleashes can shatter the foundations on which any totalitarian structure needs to stand.
And that’s why Guo Degang, who brought so many smiles to the faces of his fellow Chinese citizens, had to be muzzled. He had touched something inside the realm of his people's hearts that the oppressors at large could never reach. So, like so many before him, he had to be erased and made into a non-person, ideally as if he had never existed. Such is the narrative of the yearning to build a perfect world on the ashes of what it means to be human.