The Nanfang / Blog

Watch: Things Laowai Say That Chinese People are Tired of Hearing

Posted: 12/1/2014 3:19 pm

We came across this video today and thought it was too good not to share. It was done by TMD Shanghai, which does a lot of short sketches and comedy bits on life in China.

Check it out! If you are behind the GFW, you can find the video on Youku as well.


CCTV Congratulates Banned TV Show For Emmy Win

Posted: 08/27/2014 3:08 pm

big bang theory sheldon cooper jim parsonsBreaking Bad may have been the big winner of this year’s Emmy awards, but Chinese citizens know who the real winner is: Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory.

In verifying the show’s cultural significance in China, CCTV posted a comment on Weibo congratulating Parson for winning the award for Best Performance of a Lead Actor in a Comedic Role for his portrayal of the worst friend/roommate/boyfriend you could ever hope to have:

big bang theory emmy win

There is a type of humor called ‘Sheldon’
The Best Performance of a Lead Actor in a Comedic Role is: Jim Parsons for ‘Big Bang Theory’. This is the fourth time Parsons has won the Emmy! But actually, his path has not always been smooth sailing. From his first appearance, the program could not find a television network willing to purchase it. However, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ has been an exception. After reading the script for the pilot episode, Jim thought that this character was right for him… let’s congratulate him!

But what should be Chinese fans expressing their pride at Parsons well-deserved Emmy win has instead been an outpouring of rage. Netizens are still furious about The Big Bang Theory having been unceremoniously banned from video streaming sites earlier this year.

Here are some comments from this post that emphasize people’s anger over the ban on what may be China’s most beloved foreign comedy show:

Prohibited from broadcast, so I’ll just say ‘bird’ (a Chinese expletive) [waving.emo]

Isn’t this show prohibited from broadcast? What’s the point of mentioning this?

Therefore, stop the ban on broadcasting this show!!!!

In fact, the news editor (that wrote this post) was thinking: the ban on the show has nothing to do with me!! I’ll just show my appreciation for Sheldon; what’s wrong with that?! I actually really (expletive) want the ban to be revoked!!!

Why have this ban? And yet they still have the gall to publish this kind of news? [angry.emo] Detestable.

Can this show still be broadcast? A dubbed Chinese language version of this show will be nauseating! The Sohu subtitle translation of the show was so amazing!

The Sohu version of The Big Bang Theory was broadcast in English without any cuts and was accompanied by accurately translated subtitles. As well, additional notes were provided to clearly explain the numerous pop cultural references made in each show.

Fans have been awaiting a rumored move to network television where it is to be dubbed in Chinese, mostly likely to be aired on CCTV. With the next season coming up soon, we can only imagine how funny Sheldon will be by saying in Chinese: “Penny…. Penny… Penny…”


Photos: the Nanfang, CCTV


Life as A Lyrical Linguist in China

Posted: 08/12/2014 9:04 am

This article was originally published in ITI Bulletin, the journal of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting ( in the UK. Reproduced with permission.

Most people write poetry or lyrics during their teenage years. Then
most people grow up, get proper jobs and stop. Most people don’t go so far astray as to write and record satirical songs in Chinese.

I had no interest in China until after graduating from university and am about as unlike a professional performer as it is possible to get. But after coming to China in May 2007, I was constantly experimenting with ways of learning the language.

One of these was memorising the lyrics to pop songs, karaoke being among the most popular forms of entertainment in the People’s Republic. In November 2008 I started writing my own stuff, but not until 2012 did I start writing the kinds of Chinese songs that won people’s attention.

While trying to remember that telling stories is more effective than climbing on a soapbox or pulpit, my Chinese lyrics over the past two years have touched upon social issues such as nude photo scandals, food safety and kept women. Admittedly, some are flat-out offensive.

One song, “I hate Hunan the least”, lambasts a different province of China in every line and then ends each verse by saying ‘I hate Hunan Province the least’. Another, to the tune of a rousing patriotic anthem, is titled: “China, China, at least It’s Not India!

There seem to be two main ways of getting away with this. The first is to realise that, even in this type of comedy, there is a line. Respecting this line is not so much a matter of towing the line politically, but of knowing that some issues are too sensitive to get a laugh. Taiwan, terrorism and Tiananmen Square are off limits, at least until I am skilled enough to make them funny.

One English song I wrote entitled “Billy” is about a man who thinks that the key to having an abundant sex life is to lower his standards. In China, it is not common to brag about having one-night stands, so the Chinese transposition of this song is about a woman who decides that the way to avoid being left on the shelf is to lower her standards as far as possible.

There is considerable social stigma in China to being a ‘leftover woman’, that is, a woman who is still single after the age of 27. The recently published book “Leftover Women: the Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China” by sociologist Leta Hong Fincher has illustrated the seriousness of this issue, and the lengths that powerful institutions like the Xinhua state news agency have gone to perpetuate this misogyny. In hindsight, I could have handled the issue with more sensitivity and thus been funnier.

The second way to get away with satirising one’s host country is to make oneself at least 70% the butt of the joke. My songs and their videos may make China look bad, but they make their author look a lot worse. Good comedians are often unthreatening neurotics (think Woody Allen). Bad comedians are often smug bullies (think the typical office politics scenario).

The biggest criticism my lyrics come in for is not that they are offensive. It is that they are “肤浅”, which roughly translates as ‘shallow’. In traditional China, a person would take decades to master poetic form, and self-expression in poetry would disappear under a strict schematic pattern. A traditional Chinese lyric will have a rigorous rhyme scheme, under which a world of unspoken emotions is buried. The same cannot be said of my work.

Comedy, particularly satire, tends not to stand the test of time. Some lyrics I wrote 18 months ago already need tweaking because references are outdated. Some issues I sing about will hopefully be irrelevant ten years from now.

Aside from the politics of being a foreigner in China, musical comedy is one of the riskiest forms of entertainment. If a song doesn’t go down well, three minutes is an unacceptably long time for any comedian to go without a laugh. Fortunately, the successful performances have greatly outnumbered the unsuccessful ones.

However, adulation or lack of it is not the point. The point is, we translators go to all this trouble to learn languages, but most of the working opportunities that come our way involve technical copy or business environments when we can’t be ourselves. These lyrics allow an opportunity to win attention while saying something cheeky about my host country. Plus, they are an excuse to continue writing lyrics long after most people have grown out of doing any such thing.


Shenzhen Weekend: Easter Events Galore, Standup Comedy, Carsick Cars and More

Posted: 04/17/2014 4:39 pm

Easter is almost here and that crazy rabbit seems to be in many places at once. Check out where he’s going amid all the other fun this Easter weekend.

Apr. 17th – Thursday Frisbee Throwing Training by the SZUPA – Join the SZUPA Thursdays if you’d like to learn the basics of throwing and catching a frisbee.

Apr. 18th - Alex Kenji @ Pepper Club – Alex Kenji will be making a stop at Pepper to play some of his signature House music blends. Catch him this Friday.

Apr. 18th & 19th - Bunny or Devil @ V bar - Hop on over to V Bar for two days of Easter themed sexiness lead by International sexy dance group Scorpio. Make sure to follow the dress code for this themed party. 18th White, 19th Black.

Apr. 19th - Happy Easter at Café Zentro – Cafe Zentro in the Venice hotel will be having a lunch and dinner buffet themed for Easter on the 19th and 20th with egg painting, a clown, and the Easter Buddy is rumored to be on the guest list. Their buffet will include seafood, desserts, soft drinks and even beer.

Apr. 19th – Carsick Cars promoting their new Album @ B10 Live -  The Carsick Cars return this Saturday to B10 as they to tour for their newly released album.

Apr. 19th – LIVE Standup Comedy @ OCT Farsome Space! This Saturday! Free Ride by Uber! – English Standup Comedy returns to OCT Farsome Space this Saturday. It was voted the #1 entertainment in Hong Kong by Lonely Planet. Even show up in style in an Audi thanks to UBER. Promo Code worth 75RMB to anyone that buys a ticket.

Apr. 19th – Easter Bash! @ Rapscallions – The Evil Deeds, Spacefolk & 龙龟乐队 LIVE! -  Live rock music and drinking. Feels like a real traditional Easter to me!

Apr. 20th – The Easter Bunny @ the Easter Festival in Shekou! -  The Easter bunny will be hopping around Shekou on April 20th. Bring your kids to take part in games, photo opportunities with the big bunny, and lots of delicious food.

Apr. 20th - Easter Sunday Brunch at Shekou Hilton -  Checkout the Shekou Hilton’s first ever Sunday Brunch which happens to be themed for Easter with a Easter Egg hunt, and Egg paining. Combined with delicious food, this sounds great.

Apr. 20th - Easter Brunch at the Langham -  The Langham, one of the most beautiful hotels in Shenzhen is offering their own Easter brunch with a delicious Easter Ham, deviled eggs, lots of desserts, and a kid’s corner with many fun Easter themed activities.

Apr. 20th - Easter Brunch/Beach Egg Hunt at Feast Restaurant in Da Mei Sha -  Why not head to a private beach this Easter Sunday for a beachside brunch with freeflow wine and while your kids can do an egg scavenger hunt, egg painting and other activities. Feast Restaurant is a good choice for your Easter.

Apr. 20th - Food & Drink Tasting: The Tavern Sports Bar & Grill -  What a great deal from That’s PRD and the Tavern. One of the best deals I’ve seen in a while for good food. Only 88 RMB! Check it out.

Apr. 20th - Ultimate Frisbee in Futian! Sunday Pickup 12:30PM @ Lianhua Middle School – This week the meet will take place at 12:30pm at Lianhua Middle School, after which food and drinks will be had at Frankies American BarThe SZUPA meet every Sunday to play Ultimate Frisbee.

If you attend any of these events, please email me at [email protected] and we may include some of your reviews in a future post. Let’s keep your event organizers working to provide better and better events!

Editor’s Note: We’re looking for dining and nightlife writers in Guangzhou and Dongguan. If you’re interested, please get in touch with us at [email protected]


Takeout Comedy brings stand-up to Shenzhen

Posted: 08/19/2013 6:00 pm

Eight comedians performed live at B10, Loft, OCT, in Nanshan on August 10th for the Takeout Comedy English Comedy Festival. The event was heavily promoted as a brekout of sorts for standup comedy in Shenzhen. Around 100 people showed up, which is a pretty good turnout for something relatively new in the city. I was fortunate to be there, so thought I’d share some thoughts on the night.

Below are the names of the comedians who performed in bold, their introduction provided by Takeout Comedy in italics, and my comments afterward. Let’s get started.

Nick Milnes, a British comedian living in HK, who performs regularly in TOC HK. He hosted the event and introduced all the other comedians. He started off the night with some standup of his own and had a few bright moments, but I didn’t feel he was a good fit for the audience, which was mostly American and Chinese. He tried his best and got a few laughs throughout the night, but for the most part he couldn’t hit the audience’s funny bone.

Andrew Chu, came second in the 2007 Chinese comedy festival, and came first in the 2010 English Funniest Comedian Competition. That however just makes me question who he was competing against. He definitely has a funny – but mostly creepy – look and some of his act seemed ok for an occasional chuckle. He also had a few callbacks to previous jokes which are important in comedy, but no really memorable moments.

Jim Brewsky, was a finalist in the 6th Annual Hong Kong International Comedy Competition and has opened for comics Paul Ogata (Comedy Central), Al Ducharme, Wali Collins (Comedy Central), Barry Hilton, Brad Upton (Comedy Central) and Butch Bradley (HBO). Jim was one of the shining stars of the night. He definitely knew how to work the room and had people cracking up throughout his whole set. His jokes and facial expressions were hilarious. I look forward to seeing him again.

Earl Young, has opened for Wali Collins (USA), Paul Ogata (USA/JPN), Ruben Paul (USA) and Al Ducharme (USA). He has performed in Shenzen and Guangzhou, China and the Philippines. He also was the headlining act at Comedy Masala #63 in Singapore in December of 2011. Earl also put on a strong comedic performance. He seemed more experienced than many of the other acts besides Jim Brewsky, who was maybe the best of the night.

Jayjay Ma, is a new but shining STAR in Shenzhen, he has been performing on Chinese stage for 2 years, and with an English major background, his recent English comedy show was awesome. I’m sorry, but if you are going to bill this as an English standup show, they need to speak much better English. He had – maybe – two laughs throughout his whole set. Maybe he’s a funny guy, but not many understood him. One of the worst of the night.

Victor Maltsev, is a Russian citizen. His style is oriented to George Carlin, Louis CK, Bill Hicks, humor with a bit of education, asking and answering question to himself and audience, true examples and situations from real life. Oy…Comparing yourself to George Carlin? Louis CK? Those guys are legends. Those guys are funny. Those guys are understandable. During the set and after I had people asking me, did you understand what he is saying/said? He came off as angry at the world without being funny. Even less funny than Jay Jay…

Kevin Zou, is the founder of Takeout Comedy Shenzhen branch. He is a bilingual regular performer and recently he is on TV Talent show in China. Kevin comes off as genuine nice guy that’s been practicing for a while. He has a good grasp of the English language and did a fairly good job with some good laughs throughout his set.

Vivek Mahbubani, crowned 2007 Chinese and 2008 English Funniest Comedian in Hong Kong and was the host of the TV series “Hong Kong Stories” by RTHK. He had high praise from my friends in Hong Kong before I had heard him and he really delivered. He played with the crowd and was funny enough to just riff and make fun of the audience. I dare someone to try and heckle the guy. He seems really smart, very likeable, knows how to work the audience, and best of all, he’s funny.

I would definitely come to another Takeout Comedy show, but I hope they would either replace some of the less funny acts, especially the ones who can’t speak English well, or focus on just the funnier comedians. I guess comedy is a matter of personal taste, but it was clear the audience, as a whole, preferred some comedians over the others.

The Takeout Comedy Club schedules most of their events in Hong Kong, but they do visit Shenzhen from time to time.  I’d recommending coming out next time and experiencing this for yourself. Good or bad, entertainment options in Shenzhen are sorely needed and nothing is perfect in the beginning.

You can get more info from the Takeout Comedy Club on its website:


Jesse Appell of Gangnam parody “Laowai Style” talks to The Nanfang about comedy

Posted: 07/2/2013 1:00 pm

Last year, Fulbright scholar Jesse Appell became an online sensation in China when his music video “Laowai Style” went viral. Since then, he has continued to develop his art and entertain more Chinese people, and China hands, with his talent.

Recently, after seeing an impressive stand-up act he gave at the Bookworm in Beijing, The Nanfang asked him to take time to chat. He kindly agreed.

Like the conversation itself, this write-up may meander at times because it’s difficult to stay on topic when you talk with somebody who has so many interesting things to say.

We started off discussing how stand-up comedy, as we know it in the West, is very different to the Chinese tradition of xiangsheng, which is usually translated as “crosstalk.”

One difference is in the audience-performer dynamic. In crosstalk, Appell said, the audience dynamic is more similar to a play, where the audience is expecting to be engaged but does not actively engage themselves. In stand-up comedy, the comedian’s persona is more often than not an everyman, lessening the distance between performer and audience. For this reason, direct bridge-building between performer and audience is a lot more common in Western stand-up comedy. Many young Chinese comedians who are attracted to the Western way of doing things enjoy this more direct engagement.

We then discussed how simply talking about how he’s a laowai has become central to his act. “There are two things to say about this,” he said. “Number 1, I wish it wasn’t the case. Number 2, we have no choice.”

Unlike in America, if a person who doesn’t look Chinese speaks the language and shows knowledge of the culture, people can’t get past the fact that they want to know why, Appell opined. The result is that people are curious about how and where that person learned these things, and that curiosity colors and overwhelms the reaction to laugh. “You have to get this out of the way at the start of the show, you have to acknowledge the fact that you’re a Laowai speaking Chinese,” he said.

However, unlike the CCTV comedy “Laowai Laile” he avoids jokes that revolve around the limitations of his Chinese or his understanding of China.

“Ultimately, my hope is to show through comedy that foreigners can and do understand China, so telling stories about how I misspoke one time or found myself in an awkward situation because of lack of knowledge about Chinese culture doesn’t help with that,” Appell said.

Despite his unwillingness to pander, Appell takes pride in the inoffensiveness of “Laowai Style” in the eyes of the Chinese viewer. There are many things that foreigners can’t be joke about in China, including making offensive implications about their host country and its government. And so creating comedy that engages people has been a challenge. Yet continutes to think of comedy as a force that transcends cultures.

Appell added that the reason many foreigners will speak the language well but never blend in in China is due to lack of understanding of the culture and how body-language works, he said.

We hope that Jesse can continue to learn enough to enlighten us and make us laugh for many years to come.


Jon Stewart getting big in China

Posted: 04/13/2013 2:42 pm

Jon Stewart, host of the popular American news satire show the Daily Show, did a piece on North Korea recently that ended up going viral in China.

Chinese audiences took to the mocking of Kim Jong-un in Little Miss Sunshine garb. Because of the sheer number of people in the Mainland, the skit on the North Korean dictator became the most-watched in the show’s history. To put it in perspective, the average view count from the official Comedy Central website is around 100,000. The view count from Sina went up to 3 million.

Evan Osnos in the New Yorker also looked at Stewart’s growing popularity in China in a recent story:

He decided to cater to the new audience by renaming his program, in one segment at least, “The Daily Show with Imperialist Puppet,” with attendant jokes: “How about this air pollution? I’ve seen Confucius quotes that are clearer.” And “What do you call a hundred Taiwanese citizens in a bathtub? Chinese! Because Taiwan does not exist independently.”

So just what does China think of “The Daily Show”? Max Fisher, the Washington Postsforeign affairs blogger, first noticed that a segment on North Korea, entitled “Nuke Kid on the Block,” had been subtitled in Chinese and racked up two million eight hundred thousand views in China. He wondered if “the voraciousness with which Chinese viewers are watching the segment suggests that their appetite for such coverage, for publicly criticizing an ally that has become something of an embarrassment, far exceeds what they’re getting.”

He’s right, but there is something at work that runs even deeper: the popularity of Stewart and “The Daily Show” among the urbane crowd offers a good measure of how China is changing. And it bodes well for the future of satire in China.

Stewart seems to know where the big money is!

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