How to Laugh in Chinese


There are a number of different ways of laughing in English:  chuckle, snicker, guffaw, chortle, grin, and plain old laugh, among others.  It’s much the same in other languages.

In Chinese, for example, you can laugh Hā Hā (哈哈); an everyday laugh.   Or, you can say Hē Hē (呵呵), a soft laugh that can indicate sarcasm or mockery.  Then, there’s Xī Xī (嘻嘻), the equivalent of “hee hee.”

I wonder in what way the Chinese – Xi Jingping in particular – are laughing right now?  Could it be Hēng Hēng (哼哼), a kind of short, sardonic sneer, or perhaps Mu Hā Hā (木哈哈), which is considered informal, evil laughter?

I don’t know, of course, but what I do know is that, while we are all distracted by the non-issue of “Covfefe” and the very real issue of the on-going Russia scandal, Mr. Trump, through his myopic arrogance, to say nothing of his colossal ignorance, is leading our country to ruin.  While supposedly making America great again – we didn’t actually need your help, Donny – he has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, after having earlier cancelled participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade arrangement that would have put America in a strong position of leadership in East and Southeast Asia (there’s plenty of blame for demonization of the latter to lay at the feet of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, by the way).

Whichever sort of laughter it is coming out of Beijing today, it bodes ill for us.  The interference of Russia in our 2016 election, and their meddling in European politics, and in the Middle East, are challenges, to be sure.  They are dangerous, and they are behaviors that have to be addressed and dealt with.

China is another matter.  The threat from them is truly existential.  They do not want to cooperate on the world stage, except insofar as it might further their actual goal.  And that actual goal is to displace the United States as the leading world power, the power that, for all of our faults and missteps, has done great work in the years since World War Two, to protect and further democracy around the world.  The Chinese could care less about protecting democracy; indeed, they will shred it wherever they find it, if they can get away with it (and they have worked very hard to do so in Tibet and Hong Kong).

You could say that Putin’s Russia has the same goal.  That is true, but there is a very significant difference:  Russia is a neo-czarist, oligarchic kleptocracy that presides over an unstable economy largely dependent upon the price of oil and natural gas, and on the strength of their military.

China has a strong economy, a billion people to provide cheap labor, and a growing and modernizing military.  Most significantly, they are awash in money, a great deal of which they have accumulated by first, making and selling cheap crap to the rest of the world, and then by copying or outright stealing the ideas and processes and designs of others.

It is China that needs to be the main focus of our attention, not Russia.

Mr. Trump, ignorant of history, to say nothing of politics, has set about creating power vacuums in the world.  It is the nature of such vacuums to not stay empty for long, and it is Chinese laughter that we will hear as they are filled.

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4 Responses to How to Laugh in Chinese

  1. susan t landry says:

    [apologies if this posted more than once. wordpress is not recognizing my password today…]

    very nice piece, michael. i like your thoughtful and articulate writing. but, i continue to have a one-sentence response to the petulance of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement: all i can come up with is that it’s racism, pure & simple. there is no way, no how, that the current prez and his base (was there ever a better word?) will let stand anything that can be deemed an accomplishment by a black president. i just can’t see beyond that. i have two cousins who are right-wing republicans. i cannot believe the vitriolic foaming at the mouth statements that litter their FB feeds (one of the two i had to unfriend. when he posted a picture of Aunt Jemima during the discussion around putting Harriet Tubman on US currency). my conviction about this bottom line of racism was cemented even more firmly after seeing the new film I Am Not Your Negro, about James Baldwin. Baldwin, with his usual insatiable curiosity & probing, describes the relationship between white and black in this country as fatally poisoned by the cancer that eats away at the soul of white people because of the burden of historic guilt accumulated from slavery onward. counter to more conventional analysis, it’s not the soul and power of black people that has been stamped out; they have shown that their spirit and fortitude is alive and capable of regrowth. it is we who self-destruct. who can truly prosper spiritually and intellectually with the knowledge of what our forebears did — and we continue to do via the justice system — to so many people? sorry for the rant. it’s the only explanation i’ve come across that explains the psychic rage and hatred of ‘other’ to the extent that is demonstrated by people who themselves have somehow, mysteriously to them, missed out on the good life.
    take care, susan

    • M. says:

      Thanks for your comment, Susan. While I do think there is an element of racism in the reaction by Republicans to any and everything Obama did as president, I also think that Republicans/conservatives have devolved into little more than nay-sayers, almost completely incapable of formulating coherent policies that will actually help the country (versus their donors). They control both houses of Congress, the presidency, and – with the appointment of Gorsuch – the Supreme Court, and they still can’t govern. They are bereft of new ideas, which is why demolishing as many of Obama’s accomplishments as possible is their main work now.

  2. fyi: i have started a new blog, if youre interested, Michael:

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