Interpreting Humor

Before I write about Chinese humor, I want to point out the difference between Chinese and Western thinking. Europeans and Americans tend to have a linear-thinking pattern compared to most Chinese that start with the specific and move to the abstract creating thought metaphors.

While metaphors exist in English and Chinese, they are seen differently. For instance, the Academic Exchange Quarterly says the Chinese people consider themselves descendants of dragons. These metaphorical expressions always carry positive meanings and attitudes. Although dragons can be found in English literature, they are often described as evil monsters. If someone is referred to as a dragon in English, it is always associated with the derogatory connotation, meaning “a fierce person”.

The FluentU Mandarin Chinese Language and Culture Blog offers “5 things You Need to know about Chinese Humor.”

“Comedy is a tricky thing!” FluentU continues, “What is funny in English may not be funny in Chinese. In fact, a lot of things we find humorous in our culture can be downright offensive in Chinese culture. Don’t worry—it’s actually not that hard to get a grasp on comedy in Mandarin. It just takes a little studying on the subject of faux pas in Chinese interactions to understand what’s funny and what’s not.”

 


Chinese Humor from a Western point of View

 

Why is this important?

Because understanding what a culture finds funny is important when making friends from other cultures. Humor is a very precise thing among cultures. For instance, FluentU says that depressing irony is kind of hilarious in Chinese culture.  This form of comedy is often dark, sarcastic, and very ironic. This may be funny to some Westerners, but it may come off as too dark to most.

Lacking facial expressions is pretty funny to Chinese people, too. Western comedians are quite expressive, both in their faces and bodies. In China, a lack of facial expressions while delivering witty one-liners is considered much more entertaining.

If you want to learn more about what works and what to avoid when it comes to Chinese humor, I urge you to visit FluentU.com.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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