Who is Yang Li? The name was largely unknown in China pre-2020, but Yang Li has since risen to fame following her winning streak on TV stand-up comedy contest Rock & Roast.
Li is most known for her self-deprecating sense of humor, tackling controversial gender issues like domestic violence and fear of marriage; the punchline from one of her most popular jokes — “How can men be so ordinary, yet so full of themselves?” — became one of the biggest memes among feminist internet users in 2020.
Li is in the spotlight again, this time over her recent performance calling out “problematic men.” She also joked that she often feels her life would be happier and simpler if there were no men in it. After the show, the event quickly became the number one most-searched topic on Chinese social media site Weibo, with many accusing her of provoking “antagonism between men and women” and inciting “hatred towards men.”
She was later reported to the National Radio and Television Administration for promoting “sexist” speech. However, the comedian was also robustly defended by some commenters on social media.
“Yang Li was accused of sparking gender antagonism for making a joke, but nobody is allowed to say anything when men commit actual physical assaults. Such double standards!” reads a popular post under the #YangLi# hashtag on Weibo.
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“They are so ordinary, yet they think so low of themselves…” was another popular comment, modifying Li’s iconic punchline.
Celebrities also chimed in on the discussion, with actress Yao Chen calling on people to take themselves less seriously, and another actress, Huang Yi, writing that, “We will reach true equality the day when we leave gender out of our discussions.”
Chinese-American comedian Joe Wong posted on Weibo: “One benefit of comedy is that it grants an opportunity for underprivileged people to joke about and criticize those who are more privileged. No one protested in the past when comedians made fun of disabled people, women and marginalized communities.”
2020 was a year full of gender controversies for China. TV shows and music dedicated to female empowerment are gaining traction online; meanwhile, discussions of domestic violence and sexual assaults are becoming more difficult for censors to suppress.
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One male comedian named Chi Zi, who also rose to fame on Rock & Roast, posted a snide comment that the show’s ideal performance should be “definitely not like Yang Li” and that what she was doing was “not comedy.”
“A stone was thrown at a group of dogs,” reads one top-rated response. “If a dog barks, it must have been hit.”
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