"So they tried 'zhichuang' -- Window on Knowledge," recalled Jaivin. "Catchy but worse, because as Beijing funsters worked out in about a microsecond, it's also a homonym for hemorrhoid."
The Chinese sense of humor has also become more global, Rea said, citing the "E'gao phenomenon" of spoofing and parody on the Internet that started in 2005 and is still popular, especially among tech-savvy youths.
"It draws strongly on international influences, down to the images, sounds, and texts used in video mash-ups," he said.
So if Chinese humor is so robust, why did the editors at the People's Daily get duped?
"Maybe because many Chinese editors and journalists lack good knowledge of journalism and English so they find it hard to spot satire," suggested a graduate student in journalism in Beijing. "Maybe because there is so much fake news and they lack the ability to distinguish real news from the fake."
Rea blamed the "pervasive plagiarism of foreign news outlets in the Chinese official news media, combined with shoddy quality control or fact checking."
Is there a serious lesson to be learned here?
"The primary lesson that all journalists -- not just Chinese -- should draw from this is that all information needs to be verified before it is published," said Richard Hornik, a lecturer in journalism at Stony Brook University, who once covered China for Time Magazine.
"Since new media such as Weibo, Facebook and Twitter have made all of us publishers in the digital era, all responsible citizens should verify information before they publish, forward, 'like' or retweet it."
How embarrassed should the People's Daily be?
"Extremely," quipped Jaivin. "That said, I do hope no one gets sent to a labor camp over it."