During a recent national holiday news story feature called “Are You Happy”, broadcast by Chinese state-run television station Central Television (CCTV), reporters were filmed asking ordinary people questions including, among others, whether or not they were happy, and what happiness meant to them. Some the quite literal answers have quickly drawn the attention of netizens noticing the somewhat inadvertent, and often hilarious, satirical nature of some responses.
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One particularly popular episode featured a migrant worker offering the brilliantly deadpan rejoinder, “I am a rural migrant worker, don't ask me.” Later in the exchange, responding to the question, “Are you happy?” (translated as “Ni Xing-fu ma?”, which sounds like “is your surname Fu?”) the elderly worker answers blankly, “My surname is Zeng!”
What these absurd exchanges demonstrate, however, is just how irrelevant a question about a completely abstract notion is to a rural worker struggling with the very real travails of day-to-day living. (See 1'08” of the Chinanews360 YouTube video below.)
The following is a brief transcript of the video:
Working woman: I am happy. Happiness is to earn money for kids. Oh I am in your camera.
Salesman: Going to work is good. Making money is quite happy, right? But the stock is falling though…
Retired woman picking vegetable in the pavement: I am quite happy. My salary is low but I am happy. I have put my daughter through university. Now she graduates from a Master's degree, with a good job. I can only tell you this. Everyone has dissatisfaction. Now relatively speaking I am happier. It is better to sit outside. Home is too stuffy. I will clean up.
Rural migrant: I am a rural migrant worker, don't ask me. My surname is Zeng.
One Chinese micro-blog website transcribed [zh] the second episode, featuring an interview with a 73 old man who, tiring of the reporter's insensitive questioning, finally responds with his own, derisive, question (starting from the reporter raising his voice):
[CCTV asked a 73-year-old who lives on picking bottles [from the trash]: “Are you happy”] Reporter: How many bottles have you picked up today? Answer: [I am] 73 years old. [one bottle equals RMB 0.1] Reporter: How many bottles have you picked up? Answer: I depend on social security to live. RMB 650 (about USD 100) per month. Government is good. Reporter: Are you happy? Old man: My ears are bad [I have bad listening]. Reporter yelling: Are you happy? Can you hear me? Old man: I can hear you, just want to give you a hard time. I live on picking up bottles. Answer for me, am I happy?
The micro-blogger subsequently offered his own answer [zh] to the question:
[If some stupid reporter asks if I am happy] I say: there are more than 200 countries in this world, about 20 of them have to pay fully for their own medical expenses, about 4 of them have Internet blocks, about 3 of them have household registration systems, about 2 of them have mandatory political education, 1 of them has their education industrialized, 1 of them has a compulsory one-child policy, 1 of them has their country's destiny decided for some foreigners’ dads and mums. Only 1 country has all the above features! 20% of the world population feeding 50% of the civil servants in this world. Are you happy?
Tiny Zhu described [zh] the third episode:
Near the Zhenzhou train station ticket office a reporter asks an 18 year old university student: Any thing you feel regretful about? Youth: Just need 10 more marks for my high school examination result. Reporter asks: What do you want most? Youth answers: A girlfriend; What's the worst thing that happened to you in the past ten years? Youth answers: This interview… someone just jumped the queue.
So why are so many netizens seeing a serious side to the CCTV feature? Below are some explanations [zh]:
News commentator, Xiao Nei: When you are worried about your children's school fees, will you be happy? When you are sick and don't have money for the extremely high medical costs, will you be happy? When you see all these huge government buildings erected in front of you while you don't have your own home, will you be happy? When you know that some kids in remote areas are still living in hunger, will you be happy?…. CCTV, are you happy? If you are “happy”, you are shameless!
Zouzou-ER: The fact is when I am eating, I am worried about the ditch oil (recycled oil）and the melamine milk （polluted milk that causes kidney disease). When I am walking, I am worried about being hit by second generation rich who will yell out: My Dad is Li Gang after he ran me over. I don't care about the three represents, but I am obstructed by the restricted number of responses for my post under Weibo's monitoring system. I would accept the fact that I can't afford to buy an apartment in my lifetime, but am afraid that my humble home would be demolished for high-rise buildings. I feel so helpless about your corruption, please don't ask me further if I am happy? Where is our f–king happiness?
Firework sister: Boat crashed. High speed rail on fire. Landslide burying lives. Touristic site robbing people. This national day is too crazy… The key is some stupid people still go around and ask people whether they are happy. This is a time for condolence.