We survived a day in China

Notes about social criticism and black humor on the Chinese Internet, by Victor H. Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania.

We survived!

Here is a translation of the cartoon at left that has been circulating widely on the Chinese Internet.

Man: I’m so glad you weren’t poisoned (to death) by gutter oil, Sudan red, lean meat essence, or toxic buns!

Your house didn’t catch on fire!

The bridge in front of your house didn’t collapse, right?

You’re so lucky that the escalator didn’t malfunction when you went to work!

It’s wonderful! We survived another day!

Woman: I was so worried you’d get run over by someone supposedly going 70 kph on your way to work!

Or get stabbed eight times in a row!

My gravest fear was that you would be accidentally injured by chengguan who were beating up someone else!

I was also worried you would need to ride the high speed train!

But I didn’t dare to call you, because I was afraid your cell phone would explode!


Virtually every line alludes to some sensational event of the past few years that has gone viral on the Chinese internet, such that there has developed a whole vocabulary of memes devoted to things that have led to the death of innocent citizens. The ones in the cartoon constitute but a small subset of the available corpus.

Gutter oil: oil reclaimed from filthy swill that has been “cleansed” with various chemicals
Sudan red: a carcinogenic dye
Lean meat essence ( clenbuterol): chemical mixture that makes fat meat seem lean
Toxic buns are steamed buns (mantou laced with unwholesome ingredients to make them look nicer
Fires at apartment complexes and factories are too numerous to list, but one fire that went viral on the Internet happened in Shanghai in November 2010, killing 79 people; see initial reports and aftermath.
Bridge collapse probably refers to various bridge accidents that happened in July 2011.
Escalator malfunction refers to an accident on an escalator that happened at the Beijing Zoo subway station on July 2011, resulting in numerous injuries, some serious, and at least one death.
70 kph refers to a hit and run case that preceded the famous my Dad is Li Gang case, in which police in Hangzhou appear to have colluded with a driver’s version of events after a hit-and-run accident.
Stabbed 8 times refers to another car accident in October 2010 after which the driver, Yao Jiqin, stabbed the victim to death when he realized that she was still alive after he drove into her.
Chengguan are the thuggish city management officials who are supposed to keep order on the streets but who often end up abusing citizens.
High speed train refers to the deadly collision between two trains that took place near Wenzhou on July 23, 2011.
Exploding cell phones are not uncommon in China.

Every generation destroyed by something

This piece of doggerel has been widely circulated on the Chinese Internet recently and complements the mood of the cartoon:

Milk powder destroyed those born in the 2000s.
Examinations destroyed those born in the 90s.
Real estate prices destroyed those born in the 80s.
Unemployment destroyed those born in the 70s.
The chengguan destroyed those born in the 60s.
Stepping down from one’s post destroyed those born in the 50s.
Forced demolition and removal destroyed those born in the 40s.
“Reform” of the medical system destroyed those born in the 30s.
2012 will destroy everybody else.




Professor Victor H. Mair is a regular blogger at Language Log and the founder-editor of Sino-Platonic Papers.

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