Humor may not always translate well, but Jon Stewart is picking up millions of fans in China, where his gloves-off political satire is refreshing for many in a country where such criticism is a rarity — especially when directed at their own leaders.
A recent segment on North Korea scored more than 4 million views on microblogger Sina Weibo, and even stodgy state broadcaster CCTV has used Stewart’s The Daily Show in a report, though they would not let a Chinese version of him near their cameras.
Recent popular sequences have included one in which Stewart lampooned the Chinese hackers who hacked into the New York Times computer system earlier this year, wondering if that was the best they could do.
However, far from squelching Stewart, CCTV even used one of his sequences on Guantanamo Bay to criticize US President Barack Obama in a regular broadcast — a move widely derided by netizens.
“There’s nothing like political satire here,” said David Moses, who studies and writes about Chinese humor.
Though the exact timing of Stewart’s entrance to China is unclear, many have been watching him for four or five years, mainly through the Internet and Weibo.
Part of Stewart’s popularity is that he seems cool to young people in love with all things foreign, but a thirst for satire that is not afraid to show its face contributes too, Moses said.
The closest thing that exists in China is coded references and puns that tweak official pronouncements or sound like obscenities.
“That’s just shooting a finger at the government. But this is full-fledged jokes and routines about North Korea or about China and trade ... It’s just what they wish they could do here,” Moses said.
Free translations into Chinese by Stewart’s fans have boosted his popularity, with one of the fans — known as Gu Da Bai Hua — even having his own fan base.
This article has been amended since first published.