In one of few ways that peasants could ridicule the rigid political system, some satirised the deprivation of their conditions. A couplet commonly pasted up at the time ran succinctly:
Two three four five, six seven eight nine.
This may not seem like the most inspired piece of poetry, but Chinese is so ingenious—everyone knew that the lack of the numbers one and ten meant that people had no yi (“one,” also clothing) or shi (“ten,” also food)—queyi shaoshi 缺衣少食, a proverb that goes back to the Ming dynasty.
One of the Daoists pasted the couplet up and was ticked off by the village cadres. Like naughty schoolboys, villagers joked that so-and-so may have written it but someone else had thought it up. But it was engraved in the sullen sardonic hearts of many peasants.
Still, their impotence reminds me of Peter Cook’s comment:
those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.
As today, satirists’ gain is society’s loss…
See also under famine.