Memes, parodies, puns, and other devices for discussing the coronavirus inside the Great Firewall

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In the PRC, you'd best not say anything about COVID-19.  It's more or less forbidden for citizens to talk about it, much less question the government's handling of the CRISIS (not a "dangerous opportunity").  Even the name and the very existence of the disease are highly problematic.  Still, despite all the draconian censorship, people figure out various ways to circumvent the prohibitions and express their feelings and opinions.

"The coronavirus is inspiring memes, parodies and art in Asia as a way to cope", by David Pierson, Los Angeles Times (3/6/20)

"‘Noodles’ and ‘Pandas’: Chinese People Are Using Secret Code to Talk About Coronavirus Online".  "'Vietnamese pho noodles,' anyone?", by David Gilbert, VICE (3/6/20)

Here are some examples of novel (!) usages:

zf — zhèngfǔ 政府 ("government")

jc — jǐngchá 警察 ("police")

guóbǎo 国宝 ("national treasure") or panda images — guóbǎo 国保 ("national security [bureau]")

Ministry of Truth (George Orwell novel 1984) — Communist Party’s Propaganda Department

Vietnamese pho noodles — VPNs (virtual private networks) for circumventing the Great Firewall

ladders — VPNs (for climbing over the Great Firewall

xìjǐng píng 细颈瓶 ("narrow neck bottle") — Xí Jìnpíng 习近平, e.g., “how to wash a narrow neck bottle?” (the censors caught it)

This is just a bare sampling.

Sometimes, though, the people speak out more openly, as when they eerily yelled "Jiǎ de! Quánbù shì jiǎ de! 假的! 全部是假的!" ("Fake!  It's all fake!"), while Sun Chunlan, Vice Premier of China, was inspecting a residential area in Wuhan with her entourage.

This tweet by Jennifer Zeng quickly went viral.

I've seen other videos of this same incident, and the way the screams of "fake, fake!" echo through the tall buildings is truly haunting.


Selected readings

[h.t. Edmund L. Luzine, Jr. and Don Keyser]


  1. David Marjanović said,

    March 7, 2020 @ 1:44 pm

    The video leaves a lasting impression.

    On top of that, I find interesting linguistic aspects in it. 的 de is consistently pronounced conservatively, as di; at the same time, the ua in 全 quán is contracted all the way to [œ], and 是 shì – or, I suppose, in non-northern Mandarin – is reduced to se.

  2. Thomas Lumley said,

    March 7, 2020 @ 5:34 pm

    Very distantly related issue of internet interference: my computer thinks your site's security certificates expired on March 8, which from its point of view in New Zealand is today.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    March 7, 2020 @ 8:25 pm

    (lasting impression) — on me, too.
    (SSL certificate) — same here.

  4. Cheryl Thornett said,

    March 7, 2020 @ 9:01 pm

    Also in the UK.

  5. Leo said,

    March 8, 2020 @ 3:48 am

    'Parodies, puns' in the title reminds me of Monty Python's roll-call of the terrifying rhetorical devices used by the criminal Piranha Brothers: 'He knew all the tricks: dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes… and satire'.

  6. V said,

    March 8, 2020 @ 6:15 pm

    SLL certificate — same here.
    Leo: that's one of my favourite Python sketches.

  7. V said,

    March 8, 2020 @ 9:07 pm

    Again, not with but similar.

  8. V said,

    March 8, 2020 @ 10:31 pm

    Had the same problem again, for about half an hour.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    March 9, 2020 @ 6:29 am

    The current certificate expires on 26 February 2022; the previous certificate expired on 07 March 2020.

  10. Zahira said,

    March 10, 2020 @ 2:39 am

    Here (Indonesia), there is a group of young people making videos to prank citizens about the corona virus, and they arrested for disturbing citizens. And their videos were deleted from YouTube

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