I came across this little joke about the international behaviour of various countries. It’s not particularly hilarious and I’m not too interested in the political message, but I thought it made quite a nice demonstration of how Chinese question words are very versatile.
America: I hit whoever I want.
UK: I hit whoever America hits.
France: I hit whoever hits me.
Japan: I get America to hit whoever hits me.
South Korea: whoever hits me, I do a joint exercise with America.
Russia: I hit whoever insults me.
North Korea: whoever pisses me off, I hit South Korea.
China: I insult whoever hits me.
Phillipines: my daddy is America – who’d dare to hit me?
(Translating 打 is a bit tricky because it can describe pretty much any action. Here it could be “hit”, “strike”, “attack”, “do” etc.)
The joke shows a fairly common structure for question words like 谁 and 什么, in which they function as a sort of place-holder variable. You can just keep repeating 谁 to refer to the first person it referred to.
You can do the same thing with other question words like 什么:
I’ll eat whatever you order.
In English we have a different structure and a different word (‘whatever’) to handle this, but Chinese is a lot more direct. You can just say “you order what I eat what”.