The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

No joke. April Fools’ Day has been banned in China.

A cat is seen near a building covered in hundreds of posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai. (Reuters/Aly Song)

No joke. April Fools' Day has been banned in China.

The ancient tradition of hoaxing and playing practical jokes on the first day of April has fallen victim to China’s crackdown. Like democracy and free speech, it is a Western concept that simply isn’t welcome here.

“'April Fools' Day' is not consistent with our cultural tradition, or socialist core values,” state news agency Xinhua announced on social media Friday. “Hope nobody believes in rumors, makes rumors or spreads rumors.”

As part of a long-running effort to win control of the narrative on social media and deter dissent, China’s Communist Party launched a campaign three years ago to criminalize the spreading of rumors. Xinhua’s post suggests an April Fools' Day prank that mocked or undermined the party could have potentially serious consequences.

But some social media users couldn’t help but see the funny side.

“Every day is April Fools' Day,” one user posted.

“This is Xinhua’s joke, don’t you see?” another wrote.

Others wondered if party-controlled China Central Television had received the memo.

“Watch CCTV news, have China’s April Fools’ Day,” posted one user.

“In the West, it’s only for a day, but a certain (TV) station is fooling 365 days non-stop,” another wrote.

That China’s propaganda apparatus has a problem with satire has long been evident. In 2012, the People’s Daily fell for a satirical report in the Onion voting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the sexiest man alive. The Communist Party newspaper ran a 55-page photo spread in tribute to Kim, quoting the Onion as celebrating his devastatingly handsome looks, round face, boyish charm and strong, sturdy frame — not realizing it was satire.

Li Zhurun, a former journalist and university professor, realized 16 years too late that he had been fooled by an April Fools' Day gag. In 1981, he read a report that cadets at West Point were being taught about legendary Communist Party soldier Lei Feng. He put the story in a report, and it was widely circulated and believed in China. It wasn’t until 1997 that he realized the original story had been published on April 1.

On Friday, one social media user had an ironic suggestion for party authorities.

“Today is April Fools' Day in the West when you can publicly lie and not be punished. Why don't we do the opposite and make this day 'truth telling day'?” the user wrote. “Hopefully today we can speak the truth, express our true feelings, show our true colors, spread the truth without being restricted or punished, without getting blacklisted as inciting crime.”

Sony Pictures tried to prank fans of Ghostbusters by announcing they have successfully perfected the proton pack from the franchise. (Video: Reuters)