Graeme Smith (00:13)
Welcome to the Little Red Podcast which brings you China from beyond the Beijing beltway. I’m Graeme Smith from the Australian National University’s Department of Pacific Affairs, and I’m joined by my co-host, Louisa Lim, former China correspondent for the BBC and NPR, now with the Centre for Advancing Journalism at Melbourne University. We’re on air thanks to support from the Australian Centre on China in the World.
Louisa Lim (00:36)
Stand up comedy is becoming serious business in China, both from an economic point of view and a political one. In 2016, a stand up show called Roast Convention began airing. Its first season got two billion views. It seemed like stand up was the new hot thing. But in May 2023, a comedian called Li Haoshi 李昊石 made a joke about his two dogs and a squirrel, which satirized the slogan used by President Xi Jinping. The club was fined $2 million. And Li was canceled.
Graeme Smith (01:11)
No joke but this week, we’re joined by three stand up Chinese comedians to talk about their business. Barbie is based in London, and she’s a founding member of a stand-up collective called 50 Shades of Feminism. We’re also joined by Elena who’s also a member of that collective, and He Huang who’s based here in Australia. First up, He Huang 黄鹤you were on this Australian show called Australia’s Got Talent on Channel Seven, one of the commercial networks. Maybe we’ll have a listen to that clip to get us started.
He Huang (01:41)
As you can tell from my outfit, that I was made in China. Yes. I left China about three years ago because I feel pathetic. Yes, people are really judgmental. If you’re like me, over the age of 27, not dating or not married in China, you will be called leftover ladies. I know it is brutal. But I love leftovers. Come on who doesn’t love Chinese leftovers? I know, thank you. We are yummy and cheap. That is my Tinder bio. Chinese leftover, yummy. Just take me home and eat me.
Graeme Smith (02:35)
Now the judges went absolutely, absolutely mad for you. Do you think it excepts audience expectations, or does it confound audience expectations when a Chinese woman talks publicly about sex?
He Huang (02:50)
I mean, it’s not my first time doing this. I think it’s fine. And nobody tells me no. And even not my parents, I’m fine.
Graeme Smith (02:58)
What do the parents have to say? Are they on board? Are they? Do they just keep it to themselves?
He Huang (03:06)
I don’t think they understand. I don’t think talking sex is a part of Chinese tradition in the family. They don’t understand English. That’s fine. But I think my family are very supportive of me doing comedy now.
Graeme Smith (03:20)
Was that always the way, like when you first started out, were they kind of, what are you doing?
He Huang (03:24)
No, I think they just saw it as a hobby. Yeah, it was a hobby. Yeah, and then become serious. So they just get confused. Yeah, but I grew up with the family, parents very encouraging. So that’s why I do this kind of things. It’s like they encouraged me from early in my childhood to try different stuff. And I think they didn’t stop me and then they just didn’t expect it to be this big. Now, they’re still thinking, wow, why are you doing this? Are there there’s nothing they can do to stop me.
Louisa Lim (03:59)
I just want to know whether you guys are also sort of confounding, subverting expectation with your comedy? Maybe Elena?
Yeah, I think actually my family, they don’t really know and doing a stand-up comedy shows right now. I send some pictures to my mom, but I think she might thought like this is kind of like TED talk or something. And yeah, so actually when I was like a little girl I was described to be very obedient, like quiet and shy. So yeah, so this is probably, if they know what I’m doing right now, and if they know I’m also like talking about my dating experience, in public, that might be like, very shocking.
Louisa Lim (04:47)
And what about you Barbie?
Well, I do find most things when we talk about sex is a little bit about sexualization of women body. Every heterosexual man in the world would like to hear a lady talking about sex in front of them, right? But my audience is ladies and nonbinary; we don’t welcome heterosexual men. So， I personally don’t feel comfortable talking about sex. Because and also I’ve gone to other comedian’s, comedy shows and they talk about sex. And I feel like there are too much about penis and too little about vagina.
Louisa Lim (05:28)
I agree! I agree! It’s really rare that you hear anyone talking about vulvas or vaginas in public.
Yeah. And if I talk about sex, I wouldn’t talk about Chinese men, they are not very good at licking vagina, that kind of thing. And when my audience is, ladies and nonbinary, only, I would feel more comfortable. Yeah. And I believe the topic we’re talking about is a little bit more political, and also about sharing our experience about periods. I remember, one of us was talking about, you know, this period cup where some ladies might be useful, might be using them when they’re on period. And she’s sharing this experience how difficult it is to…
Louisa Lim (06:16)
I think we call it a moon cup. Moon cup, yeah you insert it and it collects the blood, right?
Yeah, because we are doing a comedy show in Mandarin, because we feel like it would it would empower ourselves the most. So yeah, she’s talking about how difficult it is to get rid of it. When she’s on hike, when she’s hiking. Yeah, and she’s pretty struggling to get it out. Our topic is more about ourselves and the importance, the importance is about ourselves, it’s not to please the audience. Yeah. And my parents have no idea what I’m doing.
Graeme Smith (06:52)
And I mean, one of the most famous comedy moments in Chinese history and on a sort of a feminist spectrum would be Yang Li 杨笠when she appeared on this show called Rock and Roast, and asked the question that women have been asking for millennia, is how do these incredibly average guys have such immense self-confidence? I’ll just quickly play that clip. I’m sure you all know it.
Nanren bu guang meihao, hai tebie shenmi. Jiu shi ni yongyuan ye cai bu tou ta na xiao naoguali daodi zai xiang yi xie shenme. Jiu shi ta mingming kanqilai name putong. Danshi ta que keyi name zixin. 男人不光美好，还特别神秘，就是你永远也猜不透他那小脑瓜里到底在想一些什么。 就是他明明看起来那么普通，他却可以那么自信。
Louisa Lim (07:35)
Maybe we can just explain what she was saying. I mean, she was saying why is it that men, putong, just so… average, they think of themselves as being so special.
Graeme Smith (07:47)
I mean, this, to give a bit more background to this clip, provoked a huge backlash from male netizens. And it even led to one of her companies stopping sponsoring her. Intel dropped her after all the netizens said, this is terrible, you know, we’ll never buy a computer from you guys again.
And this year, she was actually receiving death threats, because she talked about this stuff. And it’s just crazy.
He Huang (08:09)
I think she’s the Chinese version of Hannah Gadsby. When Nanette came out, she got all the death threats as well, as a female comic, who identify gay and not, you know, going with the male patriarchy. And I think she was talking about that on the podcast, how she gets a lot of death threats. Like the men are too young, these situation. But just like the sheer amount, sheer volume, of death threats she gets, because China is such a big country, right? But it’s definitely much more overwhelming than Hannah Gadsby.
Graeme Smith (08:48)
Elena, I know you’ve said that you see stand up comedy as a form of rebellion both against the state and against society. Can you maybe explain why that is?
Yeah I actually a think a lot about it, because, you know, girls in China, especially; actually not only in China, in the whole East Asian society. We are obeying, guai 乖 in Chinese, is like, being obeying and listening to others and be caring. And that’s the social expectation for women. Like from my own experience as a child, as like a little girl, I was expected to be clever and smart and like an extrovert. And sometimes, so I found it’s quite interesting to draw the line. Like you should be quiet, but not too shy. You should be entertaining, to the adults, when you are a child, that you should be a funny and cute little child, but not too rebellious. So, everything is like this. There is a standard setup for us. And then you cannot jump out of the standard, and standup comedy is actually totally out of the standards. Because we are telling our own stories, our own feelings, and we are not telling them to please the audience for you. So, in other sense, if we’re children we are not saying things or performing things to please adults. Like as adults, like in the children’s world, is like the ruling party, like in the adult’s world. So, like the hierarchy is quite similar. And standup comedy is actually really rebellious to me because we jump out of the expectations for us.
Louisa Lim (10:34)
I just want to go back to that moment that Graeme just played. And I think one of you, He Huang, you said it was like Hannah Gadsby. And Barbie, you said you guys were doing workshops around this.
The reason that we established this thing is because I saw some clips from a New York comedy club called Nuzi zhuyi 女子主意. And I think, oh, this is great. And that’s why I’ve established this, and after the first show, and I contact them say, oh, we are not really professional. And we want to have more knowledge about this. And they are very friendly. And we co-hosted this workshop online. And also they’ve got some scripts and some handout, something like lecture notes about how to perform stand-up comedian show, like talk show. And in this piece of work, in this kind of lecture notes, there’s a piece of work from Yang Li: like men, so well, men are generally so ordinary and so confident. Yeah, and they were saying there’s a structure of a piece, of like a sentence or a line, in comedy. And the topic is… could be something like gender equality, or man’s ignorance. And her attitude is like, she’s fed up with it. And eventually the line is like, he’s so like, men is so ordinary and so confident. And we all share, your little ladies in China, would have similar feeling with us. It’s about honesty, being honest, and speak out our own feelings.
Louisa Lim (12:17)
It strikes me that you’re doing comedy to quite different audiences. That Elena and Barbie are really targeting an audience of, because you are doing it in Mandarin, for Chinese speakers overseas. Whilst He Huang you’re doing it in English, aren’t you, in Australia and elsewhere? I mean, you know, how does your audience react He Huang? What kind of jokes or stories do you tell?
He Huang (12:41)
I think my perspective might be a little bit different from Barbie. I think my priority still is to be a comedian first, which means I have to make a joke first. Not everything can be made into a joke. If you are talking about techniques or writing a joke, a lot of the things we experienced, depend on the audience. There’s one famous things as misery only shared and it’s very relatable. And then that’s where your audience can laugh, because you have this shared emotion. I think a lot of my stuff because my background being Chinese, being a woman, and not Chinese Australian, actually Chinese from China. So, a lot of the stuff I know cannot be expressed in English. And then just because the setup is gonna be so long, they need to find those emotions can drive us together. So, I think that’s where I tweak my jokes about, so it’s not only about sex or women, it’s other stuff. Like my general upset about my family and cultural difference. Though because I do full-time comedy now, so I don’t really have a job. My job is doing comedy. So a little bit about that, traveling and stuff. And yeah, I think that’s the general topic I’m going for, for English audience.
Yeah, so my takeaway about the backlash because I know He [Huang] is also getting a lot of backlash online after her jokes, during the COVID period. I think it is a similar situation as Yang Li, because you just can’t take away from it. It’s very easy for Chinese to get triggered. And that’s why I think, that’s why me and Barbie, is like our community club is, so far, it’s still very small. And our audience, as a target group, is also very small and we are all female and Chinese. And I think to a very big, great extent, we are also sharing the same political views. So that’s why it is safe place for us to talk about whatever we want. And if we are doing something bigger like He is doing right now. And if we are putting our videos online or having more audience, we will trigger a lot of people as well. And that’s when we cannot just speak up, like us right now. So, I think it’s a backlash just, yeah. It’s targeting the more famous stand-up comedian.
Louisa Lim (15:29)
Do you want to talk a bit about your experience, talking about COVID and what happened?
He Huang (15:35)
Not only about the COVID things, like the whole experience, I think, make me grow. I will have my special taping next year. So, you will see my whole comment about that for an hour. So, it’ll be fun. But the whole thing, I think you’d like, to simply put in a way, first, I learned about online triggering, like online comments, like the hostility against female comedian. And it’s not uncommon. That’s what I learned, especially for people of color. And then you are female, it’s a lot of hate on the internet. If you are just a minority and the female comedians, you just get automatically, do attract a lot of people saying you’re not funny, you’re just using this to get, you know, online publicity. And another thing I realized, because I didn’t, I’m not an influencer, to start with the whole, you know, building up my online profile, like a lot of my other friends. So, they experienced a lot of that. I learned from them, like how they cope with it, like they’re minority female comedians as well. They get a lot of hatred from their own community as well. Especially the conservative communities. And another thing I learned is yes, I think Chinese become more and more extreme, especially the online content, and then comments. And because I know a lot of my friends around my friends’ circle, they are Chinese, they have nothing against me for those clips. They are just, you know, the silent majority. So, whatever is going on the internet is extreme. And it’s pathetic. And it’s very, very dangerous now. So, I when I offer an experience, I learned about all this, I think I feel better. But when I first got those online hate comments, I was confused and hurt. But now I am just like, if you want to hurt me, I’m that kind of comedian. If you wanted to heckle me, I will make sure you’re crossed, I will just go back harder. I used to hold back a little bit. And now I don’t want to hold it back anymore. Like okay, if you think this is the worst you can get, I can go harder than you thought. That’s how I think comedians, like female comedians have to do to deal with this. Unfortunately, it’s like a patriarchal society, like the majority of people think men they’ll have the bigger saying. Being a female comic that you have to be really harsh to comment back. You cannot be soft on them. Sorry, and this and that. And then I think that’s the one thing. Yeah, I learned and deal with those comments.
Graeme Smith (18:24)
Maybe just to explain a bit more about the model that that you guys are doing with the collective and what you’re inspired by. I saw this amazing clip from a comedy group in New York that was parodying Xinwen Lianbo 新闻联播, and I’m possibly traumatized because I watched way too much Xinwen Lianbo when I was learning Chinese. But one of the funniest skits I’ve ever come across is this parody newsreader routine where they talk about the state of women in China using the whole Xinwen Lianbo language.
Louisa Lim (18:55)
And Xinwen Lianbo, can you just explain Xinwen Lianbo is?
Graeme Smith (18:58)
Xinwen Lianbo is like the nightly news in China. This sort of dreadfully boring, half an hour of what the leaders have done today. Or these days what Xi Jinping has done today. I’ll just quickly play that clip.
Zai guo nei gang guoqude chun jie dang dian ying [liu lang di qui] zuo wei guochan kehuan da pian huode le juda de piaofang huibao he haoping. Zhe yi bu fan wutuobang juzuo miaohui le zai 2049 nian zhong guo de nv sheng diwei jiao yi bai nian qian you da fu du xiahua. Cong guoqude “fu nv neng ding ban pian bian tian” dao jiang lai de funv suiran neng shangtian ye zhi neng shang yi hui‘r tian. 在国内刚过去的春季档电影《流浪地球》作为国产科幻大片获得了巨大票房回报和好评。这一部反乌托邦巨作描绘了在2049年中国的女生地位较一百年前有大幅的下滑。从过去的‘妇女能顶半片半天’到将来的妇女虽然能上天也只能上一会儿天。
Graeme Smith (19:37)
So in that they’re parodying sort of official state praise for this movie called Wandering Earth 2 and talking about the status of women and how, how far it’s gonna fall in the future. But this kind of comedy obviously couldn’t be done in China. I mean, how much does this model free you up, I guess, to discuss pretty well everything?
The reason I founded 50 Shades of feminism because I saw this, like something like the clip you just showed, the clip from Nvzi zhuyi and I don’t know, you know, this podcast Chinese podcast run by Yuan Li. She’s got this bu ming bai bo ke 不明白博客 on the internet. Yeah, so Yuan Li went to New York and listen to this show and recorded an hour’s podcast for the comedy shows. And I’m a big fan of this lady called Nancy, I felt like my style is similar to Nancy’s style. Yeah, and some of the clips are really hilarious. And everyone’s got different styles. And actually, our performance is pretty similar to Nvzi zhuyi now. You know, everyone’s got different topic and everyone’s in different style. And some, some performances are pretty moving, and some of them are so hilarious you just don’t know probably when they are writing out their script, they didn’t expect people would laugh about this part. There are plenty for the audience to laugh about maybe the other part. So it’s just chaotically fun. So yeah, those that want to see the clips of the comedy shows on Instagram by Nvzi zhuyi. I feel like this is the type of comedy show I want to do, it’s something, it’s like holding a hosting a party for other ladies without misogyny in it. And as also a safe space.
Graeme Smith (21:21)
Yeah, I also think these kinds of collectives and communities are very important for a diasporic Chinese overseas, because nowadays, as a space for us to express ourselves is extremely limited. You know, even online or, we are writing some comments or like a posting something, we need to use a signs or a substitute for some words, to avoid the censorship. So having a space when I go overseas, without censorship, and surveillance, and we can actually say whatever we want, like onstage in public is super important for us. And I think it’s almost impossible within China right now. And we actually have this privilege to do it abroad. And I think it’s very empowering.
Graeme Smith (22:11)
This collective is one of many that sprung up after the white paper protests last year. I mean, what sort of influence are you having back in China, given that the one thing an autocracy fears is being laughed at and being made to look absurd? I mean, do you think your comedy is influenced – having an influence – back in China?
Actually, I don’t think so. Because our collectives are still very small, and it’s only based in London. And I think beyond our friends don’t, it’s actually not many people know about us. And so I think it’s actually good for us because it’s safer. But I think stand up comedy, like as a whole, whole thing, actually definitely has some influence over Chinese. Because, even like onstage, like in the shows, television shows about stand up comedies in China, they are still have some political, political views in very subtle ways. So it is definitely influencing some people.
Louisa Lim (23:13)
I have a question about the sort of fragility of audiences and maybe for you, He Huang, about the fragility of male audiences. I mean, do you think it’s getting worse and why?
He Huang (23:26)
If you say, come to my show, like my solo show, mostly are, I have a lot of female audience in the crowd, like LGBT group. A lot of my fans are like that. For males, I think if I do regular gigs, they are fine, but I don’t think they are really showing they’re upset. I think online you can see there’s a lot of marginalized, male perspective, and then they kind of get out, my friends around me maybe, because of self selection stuff, they are pretty nice and thoughtful. Like comedy has become much better in terms of you hanging out in the greenroom or open mic, or doing random gigs. The male comics are much more well behaved than before. It was much worse. And but audience wise too, I don’t think they changed but they know what to say, what not to say. Maybe they just vent it out on the internet. But there is, you can say, that more and more women are becoming outspoken. And I think it’s any sense, any kind of change of the order is gonna create some chaos and the panic. That’s what I’m thinking. And especially I don’t think a lot of male doesn’t like to see a strong female, especially Asian. We’re supposed to do your nails, give you my fudge and talking about it, about you on the stage. I think that a lot of white male, I can tell like they don’t feel comfortable, but I don’t give a little fuck about that. So that’s yeah, I never give a fuck about the audience, like in terms of how they think, why am I to care about if they laugh or not.
Louisa Lim (25:16)
I mean, it is a real problem, isn’t it? This kind of Suzie Wong idea that not just white men, but in general, you know, the West, the stereotype of how Chinese women should behave. How have you dealt with that?
He Huang (25:33)
Um, I think I’m blessed on that front because I don’t really care. It’s not wired in my brain. I don’t really care how other people think of me. But I do know other female comics. I know all they got bullied, like online bullying. And it’s, it’s really still a hostile environment for female comics to do anything. Like if a male comics is ugly but funny, he can get so many like praise, and he can get, one thing is like if you are a little bit funnier male comic, your partner or your, just so many girls going after you. But if your funny but strong and your persona on the stage is strong, there’s no like, you’re still the partners who you are getting is really bad, like the quality of our dating or mating kind of choice is very limited. So that says a lot about this dynamic between female comics being strong and funny, and male comics being just a little bit funny. And they will get so much like ladies or choices and praise. That’s where they are used to. That’s why you see so many. I was like, Chinese guys are like a white straight white guy. Like you’re so average yet so confident. They’re almost the same. The vibe, not the look.
Yeah, I just want to add a little bit about the fragile thing about men and also the backlash, I think within China, I think the men’s fragility is actually also influenced by the state narratives. Because the state is kind of creating this stereotype for women and when they are like feminists acting and speaking up, they are calling us to be like the extreme feminists, you know, like the jin qi ji duan nv quan 近期极端女权 like, it was actually said, posted by a state account on Weibo. And it was like, it’s just crazy. And they’re like, men are just, they’re excited about it. It’s a thing, a state that is standing up for them and backing them up. So, they have more reasons to show backlash towards feminists and any women’s movement or awakening.
He Huang (27:57)
It’s also a part of the so-called Asian traditional family values, like how the Confucian parents values the son, because, that’s, they carry their last name. Because I’m the eldest in my family, my dad is the eldest son. So my mom is always upset about my grandpa, because she thinks my grandpa thinks I’m not a son. That’s why they have the constant fight between them. And I think there’s the, like, that kind of societal value play to being a guy or a boy in your family, just get automatically. Like, my cousin is shit. But he gets a lot of love. For being how shit. Yeah, it’s just, it’s, that’s why you have ordinary guys and being confident, because they’re getting fed with all the false information. And then they have, they’re living in the vacuum, like how good they are, but then they’re not. But they’re not. And also the worst situations because China, placed so much emphasis on education, you know, to cram kind of school exams and education. So all the men are literally doing nothing outside of school, but they still think they’re the best. They don’t know how to fix the household if something goes wrong. They don’t know, they don’t have a hobby outside of school. It’s so pathetic. And they don’t even have like emotional education about how to express themselves, how to date other girls, how to respect because none of those kids were educated at school or at home, that that’s where you can see a generation of monsters and who think there are very extraordinary, growing up in China. That’s why it’s, it’s like, I don’t know, it’s very sad and true of this gender dynamic in China and I can tell, I can know why. But I just I just grew up in nineties, so my generation, I think it’s less surreal because we still have those kinds of interesting, extra, like outside of that. Outside of classrooms kind of education and then a little bit, you know, gender education, I think. Yes, I think my generation is alright. But it’s, like, become one weak stream, like well protected, you cannot do this, just study, just study, you’re the best at the best. Don’t do anything, become fat, and you’re the best. I’m like, I’m just like, surprised by how when I go back to China, this kind of like how, like little women expect Chinese men to do? Like, I’m just so amazed.
Louisa Lim (30:33)
It is a very narrow path that Chinese women have to tread, isn’t it? Because you have to be clever, but not too clever. Funny, but not too funny.
He Huang (30:41)
Yeah, you have to tread the line. Oh my god, it feels like a comedian too. You have to be funny, but don’t let the audience know. But you have to be taking control of the stage, but don’t let the audience know. It’s like that kind of life they have to deal with, but then they keep telling themselves, I’m, we’re ordinary, like, you’re not. Like, actually, you’re really much better than my dad. But they don’t think that way. They were like, oh, we need to do something, like, we need to take care of you and your dad and your family, met your dad’s family and this and that. Just the view, standing from a Western perspective, it’s a lot to ask. To all the Chinese, especially my mom’s generation, or they just get used to it.
Chinese women are constantly gaslighted since our childhood, and I just found out when I came to UK. And I was so devastated. Because I found out how I was treated, over the years in China. Yeah, just sad.
Louisa Lim (31:42)
Talk about that. What do you mean, when you say gaslighted?
I think it’s the tradition of women, and especially girls, are always discouraged. And we’re always told that we are not good enough. And the way actually, but it’s very tricky, because we are the only-child generation. So actually, in the surface, it seems like we already have gender equality, because each family can only have one child. So even if you are having girl, you can only expect the girl to be the best. But when we are expected to be very good at school and at work and everything. But at a certain age where I expect you to enjoy the domestic life and have families and have children. And the all the expectations and the all the efforts you put into for your life before, they are just diminished. All they asked for you now is to be a good mother, be a good wife. That’s why I think the gender equality was still on the surface, like in China, and we never had a real gender equality. It was like women are still, how do you say that? Like it’s a subjective position. Because we are always belonging to something. And we’re always under some kind of hierarchies we are supposed to please the ruling hierarchies. We are supposed to please the men and we are never allowed to have ourselves. And yeah, and I think stand-up comedians are actually breaking this standard. Because we are entertaining ourselves. And we’re not entertaining for the audience. We’re not entertaining for the men.
Graeme Smith (33:25)
And I mean, one thing I’m really struck by is, when we were having this sort of chat about the show during the week, one of our crew pointed out that Chinese men are incredibly ordinary, but they’re also these white guys in China who go there, and the nickname for them is LBH, loser back home. And then they go to China and suddenly they’re in this paradise, where you know, women are throwing themselves at them and behaving in a totally different way to what they’re used to back home. I mean is is that a subject for parody in any of your shows? Because it just seems to me that this is almost another level of putong, of ordinary.
Yeah, I think that’s because Chinese are extremely racist. It’s actually very bad. But I think all white guys are getting a lot of more than what they deserved in China. Because we think like it’s the Western world and like the Western civilization is better than us. So, when white people come to our country, we think they are also yeah, we kind of look up to them. And yeah, I think it’s just not right.
He Huang (34:36)
Yeah, I agree with you. That’s originally I was watching this trend on Tiktok called Passport Bro. I’m not sure you guys heard about it or not?
Graeme Smith (34:47)
No, please explain.
He Huang (34:50)
Well, you can just search on Tik Tok. It’s a lot of discussion. I think it triggers a lot of feminism talk in the West as well. So basically because of COVID, but before that people don’t know, but because of COVID, you get a lot of like a nomadic workforce, they can work anywhere in the world. And some of those like less, what it’s called, less achieved or like a younger generation of Westerners that go to Asia now. And then they’re finding those Asian woman are very subservient and then very obedient and then they do house chores. And compared to those so called empowered Western women, so they prefer them and then they feel like they’re treated as a god. And then they can, they didn’t know the passport, their passport can be tickets to the males. So they are promoting this kind of idea in the west on Tik Tok like Passport Bros and let’s together go to Thailand or the Philippines to get a wife and their woman much better and then they’re so cute or so hot and then they do the house chores. So there’s this discussion in the West about how Western women just hate, this kind of guys, like it’s all you’re just bringing the patriarchy and racism to the Asian countries. But they didn’t know this, this kind of phenomena exist for a long time. I think it’s less worse in China, much worse in the South Asian country, Southeast Asian country like Thailand, it’s insane. To see how those yeah, I just don’t I just don’t feel comfortable whenever I see that kind of like super fat white guy, old with a small tiny petite Southeast Asian girl as their girlfriend or wife walking together. I’m like ew, that’s disgusting. But in China, I don’t like foreigners in China. I don’t know. Like I never be friends with them when I grew up there and then see them at uni, I just don’t think. I think it’s like the Western country has so much emphasis to learn English when we go to study overseas. And then the Chinese government on the one hand is so hypocritical like oh my god we hate the Western countries and another hand they don’t have higher standard for the entries of the foreigners to learn Chinese. A lot of the foreigners I know they don’t even speak Chinese when they live in China for like decades.
Graeme Smith (37:19)
I’m curious about Chinese male comedians because the reaction to Yang Li was just so extraordinary and you had this law professor coming out and saying of Yang Li, “Yeah, we might be ordinary but without makeup you’re probably really ugly.” I mean this is a law professor. Are there any Chinese male comedians bucking the trend and saying yeah, we Chinese men are pretty ordinary and sending themselves up. Are there is that happening at all?
I can’t remember any.
He Huang (37:50)
I doubt it will happen because there’s no gender education. I think that’s a problem in China. They, the man, does not raise to respect women, to know there’s a boundary. We don’t even like, I grew up we don’t have sex education. I’m not sure how you guys you because you look younger than me?
No, we never had it even biology class though.
He Huang (38:10)
Yeah, so it’s that kind of idea if you don’t raise to respect woman and you always fed with the information you are the best, I doubt they will do anything that think they’re not the best.
I agree with you like the the men China they’re pretty rubbish and shit. But even for the men here, I mean, you know, I had this conversation with my mom. And yeah, my mom was I also you think in Britain is a lot better than it is in China? I was like, well, the whole world is covered by a net of penis and some some area it’s got more density of penis and some area, it’s got less density, but still not perfect. So if I just look at the gender pay gap and the best place is Iceland and the gender pay, that pay gap in there is still 0.9, so it’s still not perfect. And myself and also my friends they have experienced sexual harassment here and street harassment. And if you go to the police of police station to report it, it’s just so much hassle, just so much hassle to get it done and most of my friends and colleagues who had experienced sexual harassment at work, they ended up leaving the company no matter how it was treated. I’m just against the whole patriarchy and there’s no country for women.
He Huang (39:27)
I agree with you, gender like landscapes like this.
Yeah, I was had a friend saying that going back to Asia and staying UK is like making a choice between sexism and racism. And yeah that is so true.
Graeme Smith (39:43)
Now just a final question because this is how Louisa loves to finish an episode. Is looking forward, say five, ten years, like where do you see the stand-up comedy scene, both among the diaspora and also back in China, like do you think after the crackdown standup can survive in China?
I actually, I’m not very positive on this. I think as long as like, as the political environment in China stays like this, we cannot have a freedom of speech and anything like the freedom of creation and art. And yeah, that is so sad. And I think the surveillance and the censorship will just get worse and worse. And probably we can only count on the overseas stand-up comedians, and the communities. Yes, because at least we have some external freedom here. And I hope probably in the future years, like ordinary people, Chinese people can perform and they can go watch stand-up comedians, in Chinese, in our mother languages, if not in China in like other countries. Because our mother language is so important to us, because we feel more comfortable experiencing, in our mother tongue sometimes. So, I don’t want us to lose this opportunity because of the state’s censorship and the surveillance. And yeah, that’s, that is just my hope.
He Huang (41:12)
I don’t know, it’s already really bad now. Just see how worse it can go. Look at the entertainment industry now in China, it’s just like, you cannot create anything critical. Even you know, Ghost is banned. LGBT thing like the mention of it is banned, a lot of things are banned. That’s the reason I got out of China too, three years ago, it’s not because I’m leftover. I mean, part of this reason. But the most important thing, because do you feel. Because I left China to the US to study, 2013. And then I did my uni in Beijing. So, it was like, very open when I was there. So, it’s so different when I got back, 2018. And just to see how suffocating the environment is already, and, and I don’t think that’s the environment, even though like I’m not a political comedian. But the idea of censorship on comedy, it’s just detrimental to the performance, the format itself. That was like, there’s, there’s no way this gonna be good for comedy. Yeah, and I was right about it. Now, I just don’t know how worse it can go. And it is really sad to see a country full of creatives, but cannot create anymore. So, I mean, but you know, it’s a beauty about people who are really passionate about it, we always find a way to express it, you know, we have you guys doing that in London, in New York City. That’s this is a big movement, you can start doing all this diaspora work for Chinese and Chinese, we have, and then we give a lot of space to people who are in Taiwan to create a lot of stuff. Because now all the freedom and all the creatives with the monies goes to Taiwan, they’re creating a lot of good stuff right now on Netflix, independently. So, I think, as a big, you know, cultural identity, I mean, Chinese being speak, that kind of language it still can go somewhere, but just not sure, in about five years will be that much of work in China, which is really sad. Yeah.
Graeme Smith (43:32)
Barbie, you look like you have a final word there.
Yeah. This or That. I’m still not sure because there are so many, so much, so many uncertainties in China say, one year ago. Well, one or two years ago who would know white paper revolution would happen? And also, to be honest, three of us, Elena, Huang He and me, we are pretty privileged, to be honest. And most people in China, they are, they work really hard. They don’t have time to even to look at Weibo, like Chinese Twitter, and even the audience of the stand-up comedy is pretty privileged. We can’t really do everything, but we can do small things. Maybe someone who came into our comedy show will go to Huang He’s gigs and they are inspired and maybe go back to China and do things secretly. But I hope they are safe doing things secretly, like some kind of secret comedy show in a basement of, I don’t know if a secret gay bar, or lesbian bar.
He Huang (44:37)
Yeah, there’s still English stand up in China. I went back two months ago, but it’s very, very controlled. But you know, as I say, like, white paper revolution movement, nobody thought about that and also see how the economy can get. I don’t know what, where, or when is the, what triggers could be the turning point?
Graeme Smith (44:58)
Alright, we might leave it there in a slightly depressing place. Thank you so much for joining us. That was a really amazing conversation.
He Huang (45:07)
Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Thank you so much for having us.
Graeme Smith (45:16)
You’ve been listening to the Little Red Podcast which brings you China from beyond the Beijing Beltway. Many thanks to our guests and to my co-host, Louisa Lim. We’re on air thanks to support from the Australian Centre on China in the World. Our editing is by Andy Hazel. Background research by Wing Kuang, our music is by Suzy Wilkins and our cartoons and gifs are courtesy of Seb Danta. Bye for now.