Putting the 'ha' back in Putonghua

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 June, 2007, 12:00am

What do a German, the Obscene Articles Tribunal and the average Chinese person have in common? They all lack a sense of humour apparently.

A survey of 159 City University and 178 mainland students has revealed humour to be the least desirable virtue for Chinese people, trailing way behind intelligence, patience and modesty.

An ideal Chinese personality consisted of being concerned with face, conservative, wise, serious and desiring success, they said, ahead of the five most important factors for humour of being imaginative, creative, joyful, flexible and quick to react.

Yue Xiaodong, of CityU's department of applied social sciences, which carried out the study, said there was a 'cultural bias' in Chinese society against humour, which could be seen as a sign of low taste, improper manners and immaturity.

'In the US being American and being humorous is almost the same thing, but in China that is definitely not the case,' he said.

Dr Yue said it was Confucius who literally killed humour when he delivered the ultimate punchline about 2,500 years ago.

'It was during a peace conference between the kingdoms of Lu and Qi that Confucius had the court jesters executed because he said humour was not appropriate for the occasion. He both spiritually and intellectually killed humour in Chinese culture which was only revived in the 1980s,' he said.

Asked to nominate their top ten 'humorists', Hong Kong students chose comedians Stephen Chow Sing-chi, Dayo Wong Tze-wah, Jim Chim Sui-man and Mr Bean, while mainland students included writers and politicians, such as Zhao Benshan, Mark Twain and Zhou Enlai.

Dr Yue said the humour in the south of the country differed from that of the north. 'My impression is people had a harder time when they colonised the 'barbaric' south and they needed laughter,' he said.