By MUXI LI — CLAREMONT, Calif. – A female Chinese stand-up comedian has gone viral with her routines on a popular comedy competition TV show, sparking debate over rarely discussed issues of gender inequality in Chinese society.

The routines of Yang Li, a comedian and scriptwriter, generally focus on romantic relationships. Yang rose to fame and gained the attention of the public on the TV show “Rock & Roast” for talking about gender inequality.

Inequality between the sexes is a serious issue in China, which ranked 85th out of 189 countries in 2020 on the gender inequality index, a measurement of gender disparity developed by the U.N. However, it is a topic seldom mentioned on mainstream public platforms.

“Yang’s routines are worth watching over and over again.” Ning Jing, a fellow comedian?  on the show, posted on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Yang first entered the public eye in 2020, when “Rock & Roast” was in its third season. Her famous punchline that stirred up public discussion on gender inequality was “Men are adorable but mysterious. … After all, they can look so average and yet be so full of confidence.”

Have a sentence here, or start the next sentence without a quote, so you don’t have two quotes back-to-back but by different people.

“No talk show joke is meaningless, and every seemingly ordinary little trouble is actually a hidden social universality,” the government-run China Youth Daily said last year. “The popularity of female talk-show actors, in particular, provides a new channel of inspiration for female audiences: how should women be vigilant or face the offense and harm they have been subjected to?”

Female audiences applauded Yang’s courage of speaking up in public sharply about the mostly avoided topic of gender. “There is little doubt that Yang’s jokes have prompted fresh debate in China, where both the feminist movement and stand-up comedy are relatively new cultural phenomena.” BBC News reported last year.

Some male comedians and internet users accuse her of creating gender opposition in society. “Yang is not doing a real talk show,” Chi Zi, a former coworker of Yang as well as a contestant of the show, posted on Weibo. Many male netizens reported Yang’s Weibo account for “spreading sexism.” 

The cyberbullying of Yang peaked when U.S. chipmaker Intel removed advertisements featuring Yang, trying to placate angry male customers.

Yang had continuously received death threats and in April, her management agency, which is also the host of the “Rock & Roast” show, provided her with increased protection.

“Rock and Roast” (脱口秀大会) is a contest series featuring some of the best-known stand-up comedians in China.

This year, as “Rock & Roast” season five airs, Yang continues her wisecracks about men. Even though the newest episode cut out parts of her jokes on menstruation, more people are appreciating her bravery in combating gender inequality publicly on stage.

More women comedians are coming on “Rock & Roast” this season speaking from female perspectives. “Normal bravery, not very brave after all,” Yang responded on Weibo this week about her latest jokes.

“Maybe men should think about why we laugh at her jokes,” Boyang Sun, a librarian in Beijing, said in a phone call this month. “They should be ashamed if they feel offended.”

(Written by Muxi Li; Oct. 6, 2022)


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