Chinese Comedians Abroad Self-Censor Due to Political Sensitivities


Mandarin-language comedians living abroad, particularly those with Chinese heritage, face limitations and self-censorship due to political sensitivities related to topics such as censorship, Chinese President Xi Jinping, COVID lockdowns, and social issues.

Comedians Abroad Navigate Political Sensitivities

Mandarin-language comedians living abroad, such as Xi Diao based in Melbourne, find it challenging to navigate political sensitivities due to their Chinese heritage and the de facto rule of not saying anything that reflects poorly on China. Comedians avoid jokes about censorship, the Chinese president, COVID lockdowns, and social issues in their performances.

Growing Popularity of Mandarin-Language Standup Comedy

Mandarin-language standup comedy has gained popularity globally, with expatriate Chinese communities establishing comedy clubs in cities like New York, Tokyo, and Madrid. However, the censorship and restrictions on political humor are causing limitations for comedians in this space.

Impact of Political Sensitivities on Comedy Content

While overseas comedians may not fear direct punishment for political jokes, they find that such content often makes the audience uncomfortable. This discomfort stems from the lack of familiarity with political humor due to the strict censorship experienced during their upbringing in China.

Challenges and Self-Censorship Faced by Comedians

Comedians, like Lin Dongxiao using the stage name ‘Guazi,’ face challenges related to social boundaries but find opportunities to address sensitive topics such as disabilities. However, they still encounter limitations and self-censorship, particularly when touching on high-level politics and other sensitive subjects.

Differing Cultural Perspectives on Comedy and Politics

The discomfort with political humor in Mandarin-language comedy is attributed to Chinese cultural norms, with parallels drawn to sensitivities about race in the United States. Some venues and groups, such as the feminist organization Women’s Idea in New York City, host uncensored comedy shows that touch on politics, aiming to encourage expression on social and political issues.

Impacts on the Chinese Standup Comedy Industry

Comedians, both overseas and those returning to China, are acutely aware of the potential repercussions of their content. The fear of industry-wide consequences from politically sensitive jokes, as well as the recovery from past crackdowns, continues to shape the standup comedy scene, particularly for those who have faced challenges such as Lin Dongxiao.

Censorship and Restrictions Beyond Borders

The influence of political sensitivities extends beyond the borders of China, with instances of harassment towards Chinese nationals abroad and threats towards international performers who critique or joke about China. This broader impact poses challenges for Chinese comedians, such as the Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng.

Importance of Addressing Sensitive Topics

Despite the challenges and self-censorship, individuals like Vicky Xu emphasize the significance of addressing sensitive topics, especially in a country like China where politics significantly impacts people’s lives. The restrictions faced by comedians upon returning to China highlight the ongoing influence of censorship and the complexities of navigating political humor.

Persistence Amid Challenges

Despite the limitations and sensitivities, comedians like Xi Diao in Australia and Lin Dongxiao in China remain resilient, continuing to incorporate humor into their performances despite the constraints imposed by political sensitivities both locally and internationally.