Although it’s traditionally more of a fixture in the Western calendar, recent years have seen companies in China deliver a raft of “pranks” for April Fools’ Day. Tech companies have been particularly active in the fooling field, with Xiaomi presenting a “smart toilet”, Baidu unveiling “smart chopsticks” that could scan for traces of “gutter oil”, and Tmall announcing the development of a mind-reading robo-cat.
Last year, both TechNode and iFeng went the more “believable” route with their April Fools, running a story (independently, but coincidentally the same) that bikeshare companies Ofo and Mobike were set to merge. iFeng’s version was so po-faced that it got picked up by news outlets as genuine and eventually led to an angry denial from Ofo.
Angering the subject of an April Fool is a known risk in any country and culture, but would-be pranksters in China appear caught in a particularly difficult space, especially as this year’s April 1st falls against the background of China’s moves to stamp out unharmonious rumor spreading and spoof videos. You could argue the clampdown isn’t particularly new — the Washington Post declared that April Fools’ Day had been “banned” in China back in 2016 — but given the current political climate here, the war on funny feels a little more serious right now.
Just a couple of weeks ago I clicked into a story on my WeChat moments about a “self-driving” bike produced by Google. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, this was actually a spoof that Google’s Dutch arm put out two years ago:
Well produced, but fairly obviously a joke, right? The next day I got a message from WeChat telling me I’d read a story that they’d identified as false. This is the all-powerful chat app’s method for combatting the spread of “fake news”, one which apparently lacks a sense of humour.
Clearly, anyone engaging in April tomfoolery in China this year is walking a bit of a tightrope. So what did companies come up with? Here are some of the more noteworthy “jokes” (RADII bears no responsibility for whether they make you laugh or not):
Alibaba’s cloud services arm is a regular on the April Fool front, often going in for slickly-produced videos to back up its concepts. This year was no different as they offered up this video (with English subtitles) explaining how a new “Baby Plaster” that the company had developed was going to help solve problems of communication for newly-born infants.
Wait, wasn’t this a Simpsons episode?
As in previous years, a lot of companies went for tech-related gags — smart this and AI that. But it was hard to beat Baidu in the cuteness stakes, with the search giant releasing a video for “dog facial recognition” technology:
Condom maker Durex has a well-earned reputation for producing funny, quick-smart advertisements in China, especially in reaction to breaking news and events. Early on April 1st the company put out a story related to the number of teeth on its packaging and its relation to how enjoyable a sexual experience using the product within would be. Ironically, the joke was a little labored.
But Durex’s Weibo and WeChat accounts then followed up with a story that — like all good April Fools — is pretty believable. In fact, I’m still wondering whether there’s an element of truth in it (and if not, whether there should be). Durex announced a “hotel guide” with three levels of star rankings. A play on the Michelin Guide for restaurants, the top level would mean an “utterly unforgettable night” according to the press release. The posts also encouraged suggestions for judging criteria from followers, leading to lots of comments about sound-proofing.
Bikeshare company Ofo announced that it had added a new “single dogs” functionality to its app, allowing users to locate other nearby singletons and hook up with them. Wonder where they got that idea. (Unfortunately “single dogs” is just a Chinese slang term for those without partners; the app offered no functionality for linking lovelorn pets together. Maybe next year.)
Better efforts from Ofo came with the “launch” of an alarm clock that charges you money for each minute you let it snooze and with a slightly sexist “where’s my husband” tracker.
The main “joke” from the makers of WeChat and QQ this year seems to be a story about how the company is raising geese in a previously secret mountainside layer in Guizhou. It’s a play on words of sorts; Tencent’s mascot is a penguin and the company has long been talked about as a “goose factory” (the words for penguin and goose sharing a character, 鹅).
Anyway, as part of an AI goose farm initiative Tencent have apparently developed goose facial recognition technology and a translation system to understand the birds’ squawks and quacks. Again, it comes with a slickly-produced video:
Not amused? Try these stories instead:
Video Site Mamahuhu Captures Modern Shanghai at its Absurdist Best
“There are no optimistic comedians”: Jiaoshou on Directing Comedy in the Internet Era
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