Chinese Vice-Premier’s Gay Marriage Joke Gets Crickets at Meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary


Telling a joke can be a perilous venture even among close friends in a casual environment, so perhaps one of the toughest settings to attempt topical humor would be in an international political setting. Chinese vice-premier, Wang Yang, tried his hand anyways with a gay marriage joke during a high-level meeting in Washington with US Treasury secretary, Jack Lew. It went about as well as one would expect.

According to The Guardian, Wang said about the China-US relationship:

"In China when we say a pair of new people, we mean a newlywed couple. Although US law does permit marriage between two men, I don't think this is what Jacob or I actually want."

Uncomfortable silence and polite smiles ensued. A follow-up joke about divorce and Rupert Murdoch was more warmly received. 

Fortunately, the joke did not seem to have any malicious or homophobic intent, but instead was an attempt at topical humor, conflating the recent Supreme Court decisions regarding DOMA and Prop 8 with a Chinese turn of phrase. However, humor is a difficult art form to master that relies on clever exploitation of nuance, shared knowledge and norms, and expectations. Before his next show Wang should probably take lessons from the writers at Cracked.


  1. KB says

    Although it’s a little hard to guess the meaning of the joke out of context – what is actually amazing is that a Chinese Vice Premier would even mention the topic of same-sex marriage (or us gays!). This would have been such a taboo topic to mention publicly by a Chinese official even just a few years ago I imagine? Perhaps even a lame joke is the tiniest glimmer of change? Aiya!

  2. bambinoitaliano says

    Considering the exploding population in China. Perhaps a quick passage of same sex marriage might help curb the population. After all, not all same sex couples want children. I can’t say the same for the straight couple in China

  3. simon says

    Why not? “traditional” marriage usually means mutual benefit for both parties. Marriage between two royal families in Europe was quite common in the past. Countries formed alliance by marrying their princes and princesses to one another. They should marry.

  4. bronwen says

    This is a stupid story. Why is it “fortunate” that the Chinese Vice-Premier’s “joke” did not have homophobic intent? If he’s a top official in ANY government, it’s incumbent on him to know the protocols/values of any other government. There is no reason to excuse such feeble attempts at humor, especially from a diplomat.

  5. steve talbert says

    I don’t know Chinese, but it seems like the word used for their meeting meant they were getting married. If we can laugh at Chinese assembly instructions, why can’t they laugh at US for similar lack of native translations.. If so, I think it was clever and funny in a good way. I also agree that it shows being gay is becoming more acknowledged as an equal human condition. To be funny, it relies on the real possibility that the two guys can actually marry, but are not. As a 50+ guy out since college in the 70s, that’s a really good thing.

  6. says

    That was a pretty good joke. I get that our history of gay panic and bullying taints these things, but as people come around and are with us, we can let go of the feelings of shame around some of these banal jokes.

    A straight man wouldn’t get gay married, so a joke where he does has humor for it’s disparody, just like a joke about a gay guy not wanting to marry a woman. And thats ok! Are you really going to hold everyone to pretending that things that make them uncomfortable don’t affect them at all? Humor is a dealing mechanism that helps people get over awkward situations.

  7. bronwen says

    @AngelaChanning. Believe me, I know it happens to the best. I just think it’s shoddy reporting when Towelroad makes up its own mind to offer an interpretation that excuses such behavior. It would be better to just report the story and let it stand.

  8. MauMau99 says

    @ bambinoitaliano: Actually, Chinese population is expected to downsize ALOT in the near future, mainly because of the effect that the installed one-child policy has on the newest generation. These are all people that grew up without siblings, and so they’re often not comfortable having more than one child themselves.

    As for the joke, as far as I can tell from reactions by my Chinese friend, it was actually a pretty good joke. So, I figure this is a case of bad translation.

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