Laughter is the best medicine

The rise of April Fool’s Day

It’s no joke that the annual western celebration, known as April fool’s day, has gained popularity over the years, having diversified across cultures, the globe and ways in which we celebrate.

April Fool’s Day is a time in which mischief makers all over the globe play pranks and jokes on unsuspecting victims, all in the name of good humor. It has taken some time for the celebration dedicated to comedy to move on over to China, and despite some differences, it did catch up in the end. The key thing to remember about this unique festivity is that no matter what, we should laugh in the face of foolishness and not take ourselves too seriously—after all, laughter really is the best medicine.

Funnily enough, the origin of this day packed with comical pranks, ironically actually has no direct root in history. There are however, different versions of the inception of April Fool’s Day. A dedicated time of practical joking coincides with the coming of spring, since the time of the Celts and Ancient Romans. Intriguingly, they held a celebration for this type of behavior. The first mention of an “All Fool’s Day” as it was formerly known as, appeared in Europe in the Middle Ages.

The most popular theory dates back to 1582, the time when the French Julian calendar was switched to the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar—named after Pope Gregory Xlll—marked January 1 as the New Year. Those who were still following the Julian calendar and therefore continued to celebrate the New Year during the last week of March through April 1, were at the receiving end of such jokes.

In France, pranksters would stick paper fish on the backs of others, and claim “Poisson d’Avril!” or “April fish.” Is the inclusion of fish relating to the zodiac sign, Pisces? Perhaps. Pisces is represented by two fish swimming in opposite directions, and occurs between February 19 and March 20.

It is also possible that Geoffrey Chaucer, also known as the “Father of English literature,” could have inadvertently established April 1 as a “fool’s day” as early as 1392, with his renowned Canterbury Tales.

Moving onto more recent times, we have witnessed a wave of incidents whereby gullible readers and listeners have been set up in the name of humor, stupendously, yet effortlessly. TV programs, radio stations and websites began to join in the fun, as did social media and anyone with a voice that could be heard.

BBC Panorama’s ingenious fictitious spaghetti trees

One of the most notorious hoaxes was when the respected BBC news show Panorama, presented the annual spaghetti harvest in Switzerland, aired in 1957, featuring a family collecting pieces of pasta from fictitious spaghetti trees. The dish was still considered an exotic delicacy back then, so many Brits didn’t know that spaghetti was made from wheat flour and water. This led to a number of viewers calling the BBC to ask about the bizarre news, with some even asking how to grow their own spaghetti trees. Decades later, CNN named this broadcast “the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled.”

Google mail’s motion emails using hand gestures

Google’s first April Fool’s day prank, the “MentalPlex” hoax, welcomed users to project a mental image of whatever they wanted to find, while staring at a GIF animation. A bunch of funny error messages were then displayed on the search results page, such as “Error 005: Searching this topic is prohibited under international law” and “Error 001: Brainwaves received in analog. Please rethink in digital.” Following their initial success, Google continued with a series of regular pranks to celebrate the special day in true Google style.

How well do you remember being “Rickrolled?” Well, the infamous clip of Rick Astley singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” was used to prank unsuspecting victims as they were about to watch a preview of a new movie, for example. YouTube took the joke to a new level on April 1, 2008, when the company redirected all featured videos to Astley’s clip. In essence, due to its huge audience, YouTube had successfully “Rickrolled” the Internet.

Well-known singer Rick Astley, star of “Rickrolling”

With the commemorative day being fairly new to Mainland China, pranks when carried out can take peculiar forms. I suppose to some, this can make such pranks even more amusing. The day is much more familiar to Hong Kong, a former British colony, with businesses and media outlets joining in on the fake news fad. Hong Kong successfully pulled off a stunt in 1982, when several readers were fooled by a South China Morning Post story that claimed the solution to the city’s water problems—powdered water.

Interestingly, on April 1, 2016, The Xinhua News Agency Weibo published a post saying that the so-called Western April Fool’s Day does not correspond with China’s socialist values and cultural traditions. There were several posts from various media companies getting in on the message, depicting a “ban” on April Fool’s Day in China. In reality, the Chinese Government cracked down specifically on the spreading of rumors online, threatening up to three years’ jail time and charging perpetrators with slander if their post received a certain number of views or reposts. The only humorous part about this, is the need for reiteration of the fact that the ban on spreading rumors really was in place, and not a joke.

April Fool’s Day is the one day each year, during which Western media intentionally run fake news, and Chinese media has been known to be caught out. After CCTV running news of the world’s first ever glass-floored airplane, and falling for satirical newspaper The Onion’s article naming North Korea leader Kim Jong-un the “Sexiest Man Alive,” it’s almost understandable why China put a ban on spreading rumors. Despite this, we are still able to acknowledge a number of playful hoaxes courtesy of China’s media and technology companies, among others, proving that there is still plenty of room for fun.

That leaves me to conclude with my last point. In the words of William Shakespeare, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself a fool.”

Some of China’s best pranks

Smart Chopsticks

Brilliantly, Baidu’s April Fool’s smart chopsticks hoax not only turned heads for the comic revelation, but actually led to the pursuit of creating such a product later in 2014. From recycled cooking oil to killer chemicals, China has been known for such scandals in the food industry. It’s no wonder that the prank generated a lot of excitement internally and externally. Baidu developed the product as innovative electronic chopsticks with sensors able to detect unsanitary cooking oil, displaying its findings on a smartphone app. We noticed plenty of comments in the media from 2015 about hopes for mass production following the launch, however we were unable to find any launch date, price-tag or sites selling the product.

Vehicle Blockchanin Paint

Last year, Alibaba’s payment affiliate and operator of Alipay (known as Ant Financial), unveiled “Ant Block 7” as the world’s first “blockchain spray paint.” By painting a vehicle with Block 7 spray paint, vehicles become instantly interconnected with multilevel encryption and decentralized data input. The idea behind the next-level technology was to make it possible for sensors linked to the blockchain, to capture information linked to a road accident for instance, preventing fraudsters from claiming compensation. What a novel idea! You can imagine how astounding this would be for someone who believed it.

Geese Farm AI Initiative

Tencent—basically China’s Facebook—announced their new AI geese farm initiative, using goose facial recognition technology. Their plan was to open a farm of geese located in Guizhou, where Apple operates its iCloud business in China. Tencent even released the statement, “It is a challenge to develop goose face recognition…but compared with human beings, cosmetic surgery is not as popular among geese so there is less interference in goose face recognition technology development.” At a later stage the technology was supposed to reduce the language barriers between humans and geese. Picture the flocks of people who were intrigued to know more about this at the time!

Ofo And Mobike Merger

Chinese technology companies iFeng and TechNode ran stories (independently, but coincidentally the same) about the two biggest bikeshare companies, Ofo and Mobike, merging into one, as an April Fool’s prank. The best hoaxes fall into the realms of believability and that is why this one certainly had people fooled. In fact, iFeng’s version was so on point that it got picked up by news outlets as genuine and led to a surly denial from Ofo. A classic example of how a quality prank can end up pissing someone off. Some might say to “lighten up” in this kind of situation…

Animal Facial Recognition

Known as China’s largest search engine and a leader in artificial intelligence, Baidu announced the new application of facial recognition technology to animals, starting with dogs. Let’s “paws” for a moment and realize how ridiculous this is—but people actually believed it, right? According to the announcement, the technology would scan the face of a dog, allowing it to open doors and even process payment, to aid them in fetching food. Baidu reinforced this notion with claiming that in the future, animal face recognition would also be used for searching for lost pets and protecting rare animals. The video was pretty nicely done, too. There’s nothing like a touch of playing on the heartstrings to inspire believability, right?

Durex Hotel Guide

Well-known condom maker Durex has a well-earned reputation for witty advertisements in China, and didn’t disappoint on April Fool’s Day. They put out a story related to the number of teeth on its packaging and its relation to how pleasurable using the product within would be. Unfortunately, it fell a little flaccid. However, they followed up with an ingenious “Durex hotel guide” on their Weibo and WeChat accounts, featuring three star ranking levels. The highest level connoted an “utterly forgettable night” according to the press release. With the post having generated a lot of interest, judging criteria suggestions from followers led to various comments regarding sound-proofing. You really can’t make this stuff up, can you?

JD Virtual Reality Glasses

JD.com, China’s second largest e-commerce player, said it launched a set of virtual reality glasses, aimed at unmarried men so that they can understand more about the women they are dating. I know that some of you may be thinking that already sounds impossible. With the glasses, men are able to recognize a woman’s emotions based on her facial expression, as well as from the brands and prices of clothes and cosmetics they use. Interesting. The company even claimed that the accuracy rate of the glasses had reached 61.8 percent. Perhaps some may have deemed the fabricated product as slightly sexist, but come on, it is pretty funny.

HERE!’s best pranks

McDonalds McFoot Burger

We all know how much Chinese locals enjoy a good chicken foot. Well it was only a matter of time until McDonalds released a burger dedicated to the infamous treat, right? April 1, 2013 was the day on which HERE! reached thousands of people, with its crafty demeanor, by pushing the novelty McDonalds’ burger containing chicken feet, priced at 9 RMB and known as the “McFoot.” The post certainly received some attention and we simply had to release it again a few years later. Hilariously vulgar yet fitting in with China’s food culture perfectly, this can only be described as a clucking funny joke.

Taco Bell Review

HERE!’s 2010 hoax was so successful (or a massive fail, depending on how you look at it), that the editors at the time received quite the response. HERE! published a restaurant review of Taco Bell—the supposed latest addition to Dongguan, just around the corner from McDonalds at Dynacity. Written by “Isaac Cook,” the review included a closing time as well as the “landmark” reference, making it that bit more plausible. The trouble was, many Dongguaners became so excited by the prospect, that they had jumped at the chance to visit, and when they couldn’t locate it for obvious reasons, sent in emails for clarification. HERE! received some very undesirable emails as a result! Who knew Taco Bell was so popular?

Coldplay Coming to Dongguan

That’s right. For those of you who remember April 2017, you were probably fooled or almost fooled, weren’t you? Our official PartyHERE! WeChat account post announcing that Coldplay had added Dongguan Basketball Center to their world tour, caused quite a stir and generated lots of comments online and offline. I mean it is Coldplay after all! You can imagine the disappointment from people when they discovered it was fake news. Oops… But a good prank is one that has people gripped and fooled. That’s why you need your wits about you on April Fool’s Day!

Catapulting in Dongguan

“Launch Fun” was named as the thrilling extreme sport fad of Dongguan in April 2012, which HERE! presented as a news “scene” within the publication. Launch Fun human catapult was enabled by Dongguan’s first catapult device, built by an American living in the city, with a quote from him saying “It’s like flying.” According to the release, participants would use airbag suits for safety purposes, landing up to half a kilometer away from launching point. Placing this April Fool’s prank subtly into the body of standard formal monthly news was certainly a smooth move.

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