Covering One’s Ears to Steal a Bell – Chinese Joke

Context: This joke was told by one of my coworkers at a boba place. We had closed early that day and the manager had brought us pizza, so we ate and took turns telling jokes. I chimed in and asked if I could use one of them for my folklore project, to which my coworker (KC) agreed. 


KC: “Okay so this joke is one that I found really funny, but I think I found it funny cause it just seemed really stupid. So there was this guy who wanted to steal this huge bell from a rival clan in China.  This bell was very important to the rival clan. There was a problem though because the bell was very big and lugging it around would be too obvious due to the noise it would make. So after sitting around for a while and thinking about how to steal the bell, he came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. He used two pieces of cloth to plug his ears because he thought that this would reduce the sound that the bell made and that no one would be able to hear it. He started to carry the bell away, and people soon stormed in and caught him in the act.”

Background: My coworker learned about this joke from her father two weeks prior to telling it to us at work. She really likes the joke because she “didn’t get the punch line at first when [her] father first told her, but upon realizing what the thief actually did, [she] kept laughing for a few minutes”. According to her observation of the reaction that people have after she tells them the joke, they either “snort of the sheer stupidity of the thief if they get the joke right away or chuckle for a long time after realizing the punchline. 

Thoughts: When my coworkers and I were told the joke, a few of us got the punchline immediately and snorted at the same time, which made everything even funnier. I went home to tell the joke to my father, who laughed and said the joke was actually really popular in China and there was actually a Chinese idiom that was made because of the joke. The idiom, 掩耳盗铃, means to cover one’s ears while stealing a bell and is supposed to tell people not to deceive themselves with stupidity and to think things through before doing them.