China: Punchline from a female fist

Sophie Zinser describes how online subversion is changing China’s attitude to gender equality

The World Today Published 4 February 2022 3 minute READ

Sophie Zinser

Former Academy Associate, Middle East North Africa Programme and Asia-Pacific Programme

It took a one-two punchline to the male gut for the Chinese comedian Yang Li to go viral: ‘How could men be so average yet so confident?’

As a contestant on season two of the Chinese comedy TV show Rock and Roast, Yang’s comment had millions of engagements on Chinese social media platform Weibo in 2020. 

Raised in rural Hebei, she worked as a fashion designer and then in retail before finding the Beijing Stand Up Comedy Club. A few successful shows and writing assignments lifted her profile from stand-up comedian to TV fame and finally to commercial infamy. 

Last year, Intel and Mercedes-Benz featured her in advertisements, which brought an angry response from male netizens. In a Weibo post with more than 100,000 likes, one man summed up the rancour: ‘I think Mercedes-Benz choosing Yang to make advertising is to tell ordinary men like me to stay away from its cars.’ 

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