After Chinese comedian He Huang's Australia's Got Talent stand-up went viral, China's trolls went on the attack – ABC News
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Treasurer Jim Chalmers speak to the media
With zingers including a joke that pokes fun at her Chinese name, comedian He Huang's Australian stand-up routine has been going viral.
"My name is He. It's spelled H-E. And that's it. Yes, it is my name. It's not my pronoun."
The Chinese comedian has been trending on Twitter and YouTube for her performance on Australia's Got Talent earlier this month, clocking more than 1 million views.
However, while her routine filled with taboo Chinese topics — including COVID-19 origins and "leftover" women — may have audiences in Australia giggling, the same can't be said in China.
The 32-year-old came to Australia in 2019 after studying and working for six years in the United States, where she got her start in comedy.
Based in Sydney and working part-time in bilingual education administration, she has become a target of Chinese nationalist trolling for "insulting" the country.
On Chinese social media platform Weibo, users have posted more than 2,000 comments and messages about the comedian.
Some hurled personal insults, saying her jokes were "disgusting" and calling her a "slop bucket".
Huang said she was shocked at first.
"It was the personal attacks that I didn't expect. I don't think I said anything controversial," she told the ABC.
"You feel hurt, especially when those words are from your people.
"I thought Chinese people would have been more supportive."
In her four-minute set, Huang tackled anti-Chinese sentiment in Australia and poked fun at her Chinese heritage.
"I'm really sorry for COVID. I'm sorry for it, but I didn't do it. I was here the whole time," she joked.
She also addressed an incident of racism that she endured back when more pandemic restrictions were still in place.
"Last year, I was roaming around the city and this guy just yelled at me, he was like, 'Yo, go back to China,'" she said.
"I was, like, 'Sir, there's no flight.'"
Athletes apologising for not living up to expectations is nothing new in China, where the collective motto is "winning glory for the country". But increasingly the nationalistic fervour is being driven by citizens rather than the state.
The performance angered some Weibo users who said she shouldn't have apologised for the pandemic.
It is widely believed that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a market where live animals were sold in Wuhan, China.
The Chinese government has repeatedly denounced the claims.
However, the latest investigations by the World Health Organization into COVID-19's origins were inconclusive, amid a lack of data from China.
"COVID is the suffering of all mankind, you shouldn't make fun of that," one Weibo user said.
Shuyu Zhang — from the Australian National University's school of literature, languages and linguistics — said COVID-19 had an "official narrative" in China.
When Huang speaks about it in a mocking context, Chinese people might "feel they are thrown under the bus", she said.
And their concern might stem from when, early in the pandemic, some referred to COVID-19 as the "China virus", including former US president Donald Trump.
Huang's comments about single Chinese women over the age of 27 being dubbed "leftover women" also caused a lot of backlash.
"I love leftovers," she said in her routine.
"Come on, who doesn't love Chinese leftovers? We are yummy and cheap. That's my Tinder bio."
Huang's reference to leftover women hits at the prejudice in Chinese society against women marrying foreigners.
Some might take offence, "but I think she's mocking that stereotype", Ms Zhang said.
One Weibo account with 1.1 million followers slammed Huang's "self-humiliation to gain popularity with Western society".
"She has low self-esteem, please don't blame it on China," they wrote.
Online nationalists, encouraged by government-owned media, make it a sport to target and troll foreign brands into submission, extracting a 21st-century form of a kowtow — an apology statement on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Huang said it was rare for Chinese people to speak out against stereotypes, but comedy was the perfect place to address them.
"What I want to show the audience is that we are very capable of self-mockery," she said.
"I'm a stand-up comedian, my goal is to make people laugh."
Haiqing Yu — a Chinese media professor at RMIT University — said the negative responses to Huang's stand-up show were examples of rising nationalism in China.
"[China] is increasingly confrontational and xenophobic," Professor Yu said.
"Assertive nationalism is fuelled by China's response to COVID-19, which is touted as the country's success and the superiority of the Chinese system in government propaganda."
However, Professor Yu stressed that the extreme views only reflected one of the many sides of Chinese society.
"On Weibo, it could be the ultra-nationalist or self-indulgent, while the silent majority is either drowned out in the Tower of Babel or have retreated to a more private sphere to avoid online abuse."
Chinese stand-up comedy has only recently become a booming industry.
It took off in 2017 with the successful comedy competition series Rock & Roast.
However, the successful online series has also drawn attention from male social media users in China.
Comedian Yang Li — who rose to fame for her sarcastic remarks about men — has particularly come under attack.
The popularity of the show, alongside other series — such as Deyun Laughter Club — has also placed stand-up comedy in the spotlight with authorities.
In September 2020, China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued a notice emphasising the need to "strengthen the content review and on-site supervision of language programs such as stand-up comedy".
And comedy in China has been subjected to censorship over perceived sensitivities: in the latest season of Rock & Roast, female twins Yan Yi and Yan Yue's comedy segment on gender was cut from over four minutes to just one minute.
Huang said some Chinese internet users tended "to take things seriously" and did not "understand humour".
However, she said she was not planning to change her routine and was unfazed "if you say I'm not funny".
"I used to be cautious as I didn't want to hurt their feelings," she said.
"Now, I'm going to be fearless."
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