Jokes from the Cultural Revolution

Here are some of the jokes that flourished (underground) in China during the Cultural Revolution, a period of incredible hardship and human rights abuses. They're collected by Guo Qitao, a professor of Chinese history at UC Irvine.
Wang Hongwen went to see Marshal Zhu De, requesting him to hand over power. "You may take over, but only if you can make this egg stand upright," Zhu said, while handling him an egg.

After trying for several days, Wang was still unable to make it stand, so he went to see Deng Xiaoping for help.

"This is easy," said Deng, and he forcefully smashed the egg down into the table.

"Ai ya, it broke!" Wang exclaimed.

"Chairman Mao has said, 'nothing can stand without destruction,'" said Deng, "look, isn't the egg standing upright now?"

Translator's notes: The phrase "nothing can stand without destruction" was a revolutionary slogan that encouraged destruction of old, feudal things.

Jokes from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) (Part One)


  1. That anecdote is notoriously attributed to Christopher Colombus. Sounds to me that giving credits to Mao for that is part of the Chinese state propaganda.

  2. They forgot this one:


    Knock knock

    Who’s there?

    The People’s Revolutionary Army

    The People’s Revolutionary Army who?



    Ha ha ha! That one cracks me up every time.

  3. One of my Chinese professors, a white man, was in China standing near a Buddhist temple statue scarred from the Cultural Revolution. The only other people in the room were two Chinese men, who must have assumed he couldn’t speak English, because one turned to the other and said, “See that? I did that. I feel kind of bad about it now.”

  4. And who gets to decide what is old and feudal? I guess it’s easier to destroy another culture if you make no attempt to understand other people’s way of life then diplomatically sort out a compromise when you decide to invade their country.

  5. KPS666, that reminded me of this one from Russia:

    Knock knock
    Who’s there?
    KGB who?


  6. My favourite Soviet joke:

    In Soviet Union there are only 2 TV channels.

    Channel 1 shows patriotic propaganda 24 hours a day

    Switch over to Channel 2 and there is a KGB Officer who says “Change back to Channel 1!”

  7. #2 zapan, I first heard that about Columbus too. But he just crushed the tip of the egg. I take is as evidence that no joke (anecdote, or idea) is really original. They’re all just modified and recycled from older ones. This one probably dated from the first troglodyte who picked up an egg.

  8. I once read a kids’ magic book that said that if you shake an egg vigorously until the yolk breaks, then stand it up in an egg cup until the yolk settles to the bottom, you’ll have an egg that stands on its end like a Bobo doll.

    I never quite got it to work.

  9. #2 zapan, to further reinforce Dainel’s point about jokes being recycled, the whole egg anecdote is also attributed to the architect, Fillipo Brunelleschi, who built the dome on the church in Florence around the beginning of the 1400’s.

    As for Dainel’s troglodyte, the joke was more like:

    UG UG UG UG… [crack] UG UG [deerskin drum roll]

  10. Make a pile of salt on the table. Prop the egg upright in the salt. Very, very gently blow away the pile of the salt. Only the salt that is supporting the egg will remain. It will look as if the egg stands on its own. More usually done with the salt shaker “balanced” on one corner. An old Denny’s trick.

  11. On a related note, you may also enjoy Christie Davies, 2007, ‘Humour and protest: Jokes under communism’, International Review of Social History, Vol. 52.

  12. If you are able to find a copy, I can’t recommend the film “Chronicle of My Cultural Revolution” by Chinese writer and filmmaker Xu Xing. I run film series on Asia as part of my work, and a faculty member of the university screened this film for us (as Mr. Xing is a friend of his) and shared his own recollections of the Cultural Revolution. The movie is incredible – Mr. Xing uses his own memories of the period (sent for re-education because he wrote a love letter with some mild revolutionary sentiment to a girl in his class, who didn’t know what to do and showed it to a teacher) to frame a series of interviews with fellow victims of the insanity, including a woman who tells about how her 16-year-old girls’ school classmates murdered their headmistress in front of the school.

    It’s probably one of the best films on China I’ve ever seen, as it admits that people in China basically do NOT talk about the Cultural Revolution, usually because it’s too painful, and yet finds incredibly modest and kind people willing to share their stories. Jokes aside, there were people in the audience gasping in shock as they watched the film and tried to grasp how ordinary people were just as involved in the madness as the government, which I saw as further proof that it’s good to look at the painful times in history with a eye as to preventing repeated disaster..

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