'fuck xiangsheng,' and other musings

I’ve resumed my Chinese blog, and plan to do a non-halfassed job of it this time, especially since I’ll be in need of ways to practice my Chinese once I’m back in the States, and since my composition is probably the weakest part of my Chinese. Anyway, there are a couple of new pieces up there now, which those of you who read Chinese may find amusing. (Those of you who do not read Chinese, but employ machine translators, will just find them confusing.)

The first one is called 去他妈相声, or “Fuck Xiangsheng.” Xiangsheng is usually translated as “cross-talk,” and is a deeply unfunny brand of Chinese comedy involving two people talking back and forth at one another. As Canadian xiangsheng superstar Dashan says, the closest thing in English to an example of xiangsheng would be Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” sketch. Xiangsheng involves a lot of quick-talking, punning, literary references, and stuff like that.
As I said, I’ve never found xiangsheng to be all that funny: there are a couple of skits out there that got a “heh, that’s kind of cute” reaction from me, but by and large, I don’t see the appeal of it at all. This isn’t because of language issues, as I can usually understand everything and identify what words the performers are punning on, and stuff like that. It’s also not really a cultural thing; most of my Chinese friends have told me they don’t find xiangsheng funny either. Even people who enjoy xiangsheng admit that most of the new stuff isn’t very funny, and direct me to older stuff.

There are a number of things I don’t get about xiangsheng: its popularity, first off, considering that historically, China had plenty of instances of actual humor (c.f. Zhuangzi, Bai Juyi, sections of Honglou Meng, etc. etc.); secondly, I really, really, extra-special don’t get why so many foreigners study Chinese, get really good at it*, and then use it to do crappy imitations of Chinese performers who are themselves not funny.

Anyway, that was the main argument of the post in my Chinese blog. I went on to make a promise to my readers which I’ll repeat here: I swear, in the name of Chairman Mao, that when my Chinese gets to that level, you won’t see me wasting it on 差劲 minstrel-show xiangsheng.
(I will, however, take a page from Dashan’s book when it comes to selling out. Wait a few years and you’ll see my face on dictionaries, ginseng tonics, soft-drinks, and seahorse erection pills, just like him.)

So what will I use my Chinese for? Well, I’ve got tentative plans for an all-foreigner punk band, to be called 黑户, or “The Unregistered Illegals.” (It’s not like I can play any instruments, except perhaps punk cello – but fortunately, it’s not like ability and talent are prerequisites for punk.) Our #1 hit single will be called “姑娘, 我要跟你非法同居”: “Girl, I Wanna Be Your Illegal Cohabitant.” And we’ll tour in a rickety blue pickup truck with Henan license plates.

Or maybe not.

The next post is entitled 优胜劣汰, or “Survival of the Fittest.” I’ll just translate it* in its entirety here:


Our apartment is plagued with mosquitoes. The little bastards stage buzzing dive-bomb attacks on our faces, like Japanese kamikaze pilots in WWII. No matter how many we kill, no matter how tightly we close the windows, there’s still no way to keep them out. Burning mosquito-repellent incense is useless; adopting stern anti-mosquito policies is ineffective, and yelling “ATTENTION ALL MOSQUITOES! YOU’RE FUCKING DEAD!” is useless too. I was going to arrange the corpses of the mosquitoes we’d killed in front of the windows as a warning to their compatriots outside, but Kun shot that idea down.

The other night, I had a sudden thought: even if we kill all the mosquitoes we can, it’s still beneficial to the mosquito species. After all, we’re just killing the ones that fly too slowly or aren’t good at dodging and hiding – the mosquitoes that disgrace their species. Doing that just speeds up mosquito evolution, and makes them stronger, faster, and quicker on the uptake.

As I see it, we should adopt a more long-term strategy: spoil them, uncomplainingly let them suck our blood, and exploit the principle of natural selection to make their descendants easier to kill. Nothing for it but to put up with their whining buzz, their stings, their repulsive existence.


Comments (9)

  1. Benjamin wrote::

    The un-comedy sketch — is that the same thing as the old man and the little kid arguing back and forth? That’s played all the time on the street and when you go into VCD stores, and people always laugh at that. Is that different that what you’re saying?

    Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 1:17 am #
  2. Brendan wrote::

    Benjamin – probably; I’m not sure which sketch you’re talking about, but I’ve seen a couple with child xiangsheng performers, who have always struck me as just as smarmy as their adult colleagues.

    Roy – I’ve heard about those, but not seen them anywhere around here. What I really need is some kind of mosquito-specific tactical nuke.

    The good news, though, somewhat in line with Todd’s comment, is that the mosquitoes leave me alone for the first part. I’m not sure if it’s a question of blood type or what, but I’ve always had much less problem with mosquitoes than most other people; they’ll give me a tentative nibble or two, but generally pass me up for the walking buffet that Kun seems to appear to them as. So I guess I’m one of the 防蚊 ubermensch.

    Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 7:14 am #
  3. christie wrote::

    by the end of my time in korea i had a total of 18 mosquito bites. there are no mosquitoes in the suburbs of las vegas. so, all of my bites turned into giant red sores. i hate mosquitoes !

    Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 9:52 am #
  4. Todd wrote::

    Inspired by your lateral thinking, I propose an alternative: We need to evolve _faster_ than mosquitoes. We have to breed a lot more humans (any volunteers?) but slay those who show adverse reactions to mosquitoes bites or fail to squash the little buggers with, say, a 2:1 miss vs kill ratio. Before long we will develop into the fiercest mosquito-sqishers this planet has ever seen.

    Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 10:15 am #
  5. Prince Roy wrote::

    I ilke the name of your proposed band; not quite as political as 三个代表, but just as relevant.

    I’m wondering, does China have these?

    Thursday, July 1, 2004 at 10:55 am #
  6. Anonymous wrote::

    I’m planning on starting a band too, rap not punk, and it’s going to be called 亲子鉴定。 And our first single is going to be 我蛋蛋里面就是我的流动资产。 And I’m afraid we are going to kick your ass. Sorry.

    Monday, July 5, 2004 at 11:30 am #
  7. donny wrote::

    get one of them taiwanese bug zappers. they’re not really all that much more effective than slapping randomly, but it’s so satisfying to hear the sizzle when they get fried.

    Thursday, July 8, 2004 at 6:25 am #
  8. Kit wrote::

    hey there–

    my livejournal is working…sort of. I haven’t been able to get it to work correctly from a Chinese internet service provider, so I’m sitting here in the Chongwen Qu Tushuguan…it’s slow, but it is the net. Anyway, the school I go to is Huiwen Zhongxue on Peixin Jie, near Xingfu DaJie. And no, I haven’t been to Sanlitun, but I do feel as though I’m missing out.

    Drop me an email if you wanna meet up–maybe we could meet somewhere between Chongwen and Haidian..? Drop me an email.

    Thursday, July 8, 2004 at 6:28 am #
  9. Vlad wrote::

    Keeping dead mosquitoes on prominent display is what I tend to do actually. Like in the good times back when tribes would display the heads of vanquished warriors on stakes in front of their strongholds, it serves a twofold purpose: disparaging potential attackers, and boosting one’s own morale.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2004 at 11:14 pm #