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BEIJING (Reuters) - Millions of migrant workers may be out of a job and China's once booming economy may be locked in a downward spiral as the global economic crisis bites, but for a particular Chinese brand of humor it's been a boon.
Many of the jokes have been circulating online, or via text message in a country whose population is obsessed with their mobile phones.
A bank worker calls a colleague, goes one joke on the tiexue.net bulletin board.
"Hey, how's it been going?"
"Not so bad."
"Oh, sorry, I've definitely called the wrong number."
Others adopt a similar tone, but riffing off Communist propaganda slogans.
"In the face of the financial crisis, I have bravely stood up and am marching forward! That's because ... I can't pay back my loans and the bank has repossessed my car."
Internet use has exploded in recent years, but the government keeps a close tab on what appears, removing offensive comments or detaining those who criticize too much on certain sensitive topics, such as human rights.
This hasn't stopped people taking to the Internet to laugh about the crisis, or crack witticisms.
Other Chinese have been messing around with word games, albeit not to everyone's taste, the tonal Chinese language being a gift to jokers and wits alike because a single pronunciation can have several wildly different meanings.
A posting on popular Chinese website sina.com.cn cautions people about sending text message greetings for the Lunar New Year, which was marked last week, lest their meanings be misinterpreted.
The website has published a list of greetings not to send.
"Wealth surging in" is out, as it has the same pronunciation as "Lay-offs surging in."
Likewise, the website cautions people not to wish friends or family "May you have everything you wish for," fearing it could be interpreted as "Pay cut by 40 percent."
The issue has struck an especially raw nerve in China, where superstitions attached to the new year period are strong.
"The atmosphere in the office is very tense, and texts which in past years may have meant good luck are now being seen as a stroke of bad luck," the website paraphrased one worker as saying.
Another joke circulated by text message pokes fun at the fake money which is becoming a worry as incomes start to falter amid what the government calls the "financial tsunami."
"Two people produce fake 15 yuan notes," it starts, already unlikely in itself as there is no such thing as a 15 yuan bill in China.
"They decide to go to a remote mountain area to spend it and buy a candied melon slice for 1 yuan. They burst into tears when they get two 7 yuan notes in change," it ends, the joke being there is also no such thing as a 7 yuan note.
Additional reporting by Michael Wei; Editing by Nick Macfie