The Clown from McDonald’s, A Chinese Urban Legend


If you get off from work late at night, stay away from McDonald’s. There used to be a girl who entered McDonald’s late alone for food, but for unknown reasons, the lights were on, but the entrance was locked. The girl looked inside through the window, but no one was there. Knowing that McDonald’s is usually open 24/7, the girl sat on a bench outside to wait for the staff. After a while, she started feeling a chill as if someone was blowing on her neck. The girl turned around and saw the McDonald’s clown statue come to life, with his red mouth wide open, and giggled.


The informant is a 24-year-old female who was born and raised in China, and currently studies in the United States. The informant’s older cousin stayed with her family when she was in middle school, and she first heard the urban legend from her cousin. Though the name of the clown, Ronald McDonald, is unknown to most Chinese customers, the clown figure is a commonly seen motif among younger children’s horror stories because of familiarity with the clown statue placed inside most McDonald’s.


According to the informant, it was the first time when she really felt Coulrophobia (extreme or irrational fear of clowns) the night she first heard this story from her cousin. She was neither a consumer of any Western media that portrayed dark clowns nor someone who was exposed to clown figures often in other ways, such as visiting the circus. As a result, she was convinced that the fear of clowns was innate, and Ronald McDonald was only featured in this urban legend because it was one clown figure that children of her generation were most familiar with, given McDonald’s later removed all Ronald McDonald’s statues. The story warned her off from visiting McDonald’s at night and perpetuated her fear of clowns.

As noted in related studies, deindividualization is one of the factors why children were naturally afraid of clowns because they can’t read the clown’s intent under his heavy makeup. Hence this story and the fear of Ronald McDonald may be cross-culturally applicable as it addresses human fear of dealing with clowns which are often associated with uncertainty of harmful intent and unpredictability of behavior. The story of McDonald’s clown can serve as an emotional release for its tellers and audiences to confront and cope with fear in a controlled and protected environment. In retrospect, the informant suspected that her cousin must have heard the story from parents who tried to discourage their children from consuming junk food and to stay away from McDonald’s.