My Best April Fools Joke

If I were to be posting this on April Fools Day, it would be giving away the joke rather than talking about it. Hence I’m posting it on the day I’m reading the Onion’s Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court explaining why parody should be protected by the first amendment.

While I was in China I regularly published a blog, aptly titled “The Man in China“, which to this day can be found at It was widely read by my students, who were generally an intensely nationalistic bunch after absorbing government propaganda through their formative years, and often caused some pushback when my opinions were not in line with official policy. For example, I was sternly corrected by several students when I stated the land area of China without including the area of Taiwan. But generally I was allowed to give my personal opinions without any censorship from the administration. I only removed something once, when some nameless prude complained to the administration about the picture I posted of kissing my wife on the big Ferris wheel (Actually, to be clear, I kissed her on the mouth while we rode on the big Ferris wheel). I wasn’t told I had to remove that picture, but they did tell me about the complaint and I removed it because I did not want to fight over such a trivial issue. I also got a visit from the head of our department when I posted my opinion that China could score propaganda points by allowing a dissident, Liu Xiaobo, to accept his Nobel Peace Prize, rather than getting in a huff and trying to suppress the news. To keep the peace, I offered to take the post down if the administration was unhappy with it, but was told that the post could remain up, since it was clearly my personal opinion.

But to get to the point of this post, my best, and most successful (ever) April Fools Day joke was when I posted that Canada and China, after a series of top secret meetings by government officials of both nations, had agreed to merge the two countries to form the largest country in the world, a country to be known as Da Zhong Guo (Big China) in Chinese and Canadada (da in Chinese means big) in English. The advantages to both countries were obvious. China would get improved access to Canada’s immense natural resources and badly needed living space. Canada would gain access to the huge Chinese domestic market for Canadian resources, goods, and products. Win win all over the place.

The new flag for the merged countries of China and Canada.

What made this parody post so successful was that some of my students believed it, and told their fellow students about it with great excitement. More or less the definition of a successful parody. Also, for my students, an example of Poe’s Law, a parody that mirrors society so perfectly that one can’t decide whether or not it’s real or “fake news”.

I saw it as part of my job to make my students just a little more suspicious about news reports. Of course my students were far smarter, and less gullible or naive, than I thought. This was brought home to me when I learned about the Wu Mao Dang, or Fifty Cent Club, which allegedly paid Chinese students fifty cents to counter social media statements critical of the Chinese administration. A social media thread sequence often went like this: a social media post would criticize the government, followed on the same thread by a post supporting the government, followed on the same thread by a post proclaiming “Here comes the wu mao dang again.” My students were no dummies. The brightest people in China, as a matter of fact, despite their indoctrination.

By the way, I recently learned that one of my favorite poems, “You are Old Father William” by Lewis Carroll, one of the very few poems I can recite accurately even when in my cups (Especially when in my cups?), a poem I love for it’s wonderful rhymes, such as rhyming “suet” with “do it”, is in fact a parody of a rather sanctimonious didactic poem by Robert Southey which has been justifiably forgotten, “The old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them”

Amazing what one can learn by following Wikipedia links. I do love the Internet. I’m so grateful to have lived long enough to experience it, while remembering the drudgery of researching in the libraries of my youth.

To get back on track with this post, I can see an argument for limiting the free speech protection for parody. How is parody different from fake news? Can a person publish any disinformation they want if they merely insists, with no indication in the material published, that it was just a joke. A thorny question indeed.

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