April Fools’ Day and Madonna

Madonna is not coming to Macau to buy mansions – at least as far as we actually know. Our piece titled “Fed up with Portuguese bureaucracy, Madonna plans on moving to Macau,” published in yesterday’s edition (page 5), was the Times’ April Fools’ Day hoax and proof of our adherence to this ancient “pranktice.”

The prank created a lot of buzz on our Facebook page, with some readers spotting the joke right away and commenting with wisecracks on the “news” of Madonna coming to Macau.

April Fools’ Day – also named All Fools’ Day – is celebrated every year on the first day of April as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other. The jokes and their victims are known as “April fools.” The press has followed the tradition by publishing a hoax on this day, before retracting it over the subsequent days. Popular since the 19th century, the day is not a national holiday in any country, but is well known in Europe, Australia, Brazil, India, Canada and the United States.

An explanation of the origins of April Fools’ Day was provided by Joseph Boskin, a professor of history at Boston University. He explained that the practice began during the reign of Constantine the Great, when a group of court jesters and fools told the Roman emperor that they could do a better job of running the empire. Amused, Constantine allowed a jester named Kugel to be king for one day. Kugel passed an edict calling for absurdity on that day and the custom became an annual event.

This explanation was brought to the public’s attention in an Associated Press (AP) article printed by many newspapers in 1983. There was only one catch: Boskin made the whole thing up. It took a couple of weeks for the AP to realize that they had been victims of an April Fools’ Day joke themselves.

In April 2016, Xinhua News Agency attacked “the so-called Western April Fools’ Day [because it] does not conform to Chinese cultural traditions or socialist core values. […] We hope people won’t believe in rumors, start rumors or spread rumors,” the state-run agency concluded.

Along with official newspapers, including the flagship People’s Daily and state broadcaster CCTV, Xinhua was, at the time, key in the party’s campaign to rid China of Western cultural influences seen as challenging to its political orthodoxy.

These included basic human rights and political concepts, including freedom of speech and the separation of powers, with professors, soldiers and rank-and-file party members all being told to keep their minds clean of such thoughts. The fact that communism is itself an imported Western political concept has not been openly discussed.

Despite its admonition against jokes and pranks, Xinhua’s statement gave rise to credible attempts at humor from ordinary Chinese people, who mocked it on the country’s wildly popular Weibo microblogging service, the Associated Press reported in April 2016.

According to the dispatch, even the official Beijing News newspaper took issue with Xinhua’s kill-joy attitude, asking, “what’s wrong with giving people a holiday to express themselves, joke around and find some release?”

AP noted that along with their distaste for humor, “China’s propaganda czars are also notoriously bad at spotting a joke.”

Stories from the satirical website “The Onion” have been reported as fact in the Chinese press, most famously in 2012 when a story about Kim Jong Un being voted the “sexiest man alive” appeared on the People’s Daily website alongside a photo spread of the portly North Korean dictator, AP concluded. PC

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