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Another Gala, Another Controversy: 2021 Spring Festival Gala Draws Criticism for Gendered Jokes

Many felt the Gala’s comic sketches were insensitive to Chinese women and singles.

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The 2021 Spring Festival Gala was held on Thursday on the night of Chinese New Year’s Eve. The annual Spring Festival Gala, arranged and produced by the state broadcaster CCTV, is one of the world’s most-watched TV shows.

Although watching the Gala together with family members has become an annual tradition for Chinese families for several decades already, the show’s comic sketches and skits – often the highlights of the show – are becoming increasingly controversial and less popular in recent years.

In earlier decades, the xiaopin (comic sketch) was the best-received type of performance of the Gala for evoking laughter among the audiences. The various xiaopin shows are filled with puns, funny lines, and plot twists to entertain the viewers.1

Over recent years, these comic acts performed during the Spring Festival Gala have come to center more on social issues such as environmental protection, corruption, social morals, migrant workers, and family affairs – including those concerning love and marriage. Many of the performances in this year’s Gala followed a ‘happy beginning with sad endings’ plot, conveying more sophisticated messages and values that many viewers did not appreciate.

These seemingly changing undertones are also a reason why younger generations often say they prefer spending time online instead of watching the Gala. Some young people say they feel the Spring Festival Gala is losing the real “Spring Festival atmosphere” (“年味”).

By now, the Gala is increasingly known for triggering controversy online.

In 2015, the Gala was criticized for being misogynistic. One of the sketches titled “Goddesses and Tomboys” (“女神和女汉子”) marked a contrast between an ‘iron woman’ or ‘tomboy’ (女汉子) and a ‘goddess’ (女神) by depicting the first as a single chubby woman and the second as a succesful slim model, which critics deemed to be stereotypical and sexist. The same show also drew criticism for depicting ‘leftover women,’ unmarried women over 30, as unwanted and second-hand goods.

“女神和女汉子”

In 2017, another controversial sketch titled “Permanent True Love” (“真情永驻”) seemed to convey that women have an obligation to reproduce. The featuring female character voluntarily asked to divorce her husband after she had a miscarriage, out of consideration for his supposed right to offspring.

“Permanent True Love” (“真情永驻”).

In 2018, a comedy sketch titled “Share the Same Joy and Happiness” (“同喜同乐”), which included an actress wearing blackface, struck the wrong note with many social media users, who deemed it ‘inappropriate’, ‘offensive’, and ‘racist.’

This year, the Gala also was not without controversies. One sketch titled “Happiness towards Spring” (“开往春天的幸福”) was meant to emphasize the love between couples but drew criticism for the sexist jokes it contained. One of the male characters in the scene compared his ex-wife to an ugly villain when she does not wear make-up saying: “Have you seen her take off her makeup?No brows! Once we ate together face to face, and she held a pair of chopsticks, with the light flashing, and I thought she was Voldemort.”

Similar jokes and puns reappeared several times. Many viewers criticized the exaggerated banter over women transforming once their make-up is removed, with some commenting: “These lines are delivering a simple message that women with makeup are pretty, while women without makeup are invariably ugly and sloppy.”

Another skit titled “Urged to Get Married Every Holiday” (“每逢佳节被催婚”) attracted online attention as well for containing lines like “My daughter is already 28 yet still has no boyfriend” and for referring to unmarried people as “Single Dogs” (单身狗) – a term that initially appeared in 2011 as a buzzword filled with self-mockery before the term developed a strong negative connotation.

Bloggers and web users expressed that the use of these kinds of insensitive terms in the Gala made them feel uncomfortable, only adding to the anxiety and self-loathing they already feel in a time of major social pressure.

“I have been urged to get married countless times by my relatives these days already, do I still also have to be insulted in this skit, too?” some Weibo users said, with others wondering if there was “something wrong” with the director of the show for embarrassing unmarried people like this.

Still from “Urged to Marry Every Holiday” (每逢佳节被催婚).

Over recent years, there are more online discussions regarding the pressure faced by women to get married and how women (and their appearance) are portrayed in the media. There is a growing public awareness about gender discrimination and inequality, with campaigns on women’s rights also being highlighted by Chinese official media. The media’s stigmatization and stereotyping of women are topics that are now more often challenged and questioned on Chinese social media.

Although many female web users spoke out against the misrepresentation and distortion of female roles in the Gala, there were also commenters who advocated a more lighthearted approach, writing things such as: “Don’t overreact, these gendered jokes only serve a theatrical purpose.” Others argue that people are only looking for the negative messages in sketches that are meant to be positive, with one Weibo user wondering about all the controversy: “Are we even watching the same Gala?!”

The diverse discussions regarding the Gala and how it represents gender roles do not stand by themselves – they are a signal of a bigger movement questioning the representation of gender roles in Chinese popular culture. Since these discussions won’t die out any time soon, we can expect more of these controversies to surface again in the Galas to come.

Want to know more about the Gala? What’s on Weibo did a liveblog, check it out here.

By Vivian Wang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

References

1 Liu, Ji. 2010. “Ambivalent Laughter: Comic Sketches in CCTV’s Spring Festival Eve Gala.” Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese, 10(1), 103-12.

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Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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China Celebs

Weibo Shuts Down Rumors of Tong Liya’s Alleged Marriage to CMG President Shen Haixiong

The censorship surrounding the Tong Liya story almost drew more attention than the actual rumors themselves.

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The famous actress and dancer Tong Liya (佟丽娅, 1983) has had an eventful year. After hosting the CCTV Spring Festival Gala in 2020, she performed at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala in February of 2021 and in May she announced that after seven years of marriage, she finalized her divorce with actor and director Chen Sicheng (陈思诚).

Tong Liya is of Xibe ethnicity and was born in Xinjiang. The former beauty pageant and award-winning actress is known for her roles in many films and TV series, such as those in The Queens and Beijing Love Story. She also starred in the 2021 Chinese historical film 1921, which focuses on the founding of the Communist Party of China.

This month, online rumors about Tong flooded the internet, alleging that she was recently remarried to Shen Haixiong (慎海雄, 1967), the deputy minister of the Party’s Central Propaganda Department and the President of the CMG (China Media Group), which includes CCTV, China National Radio, and China Radio International.

Some of the rumors included those claiming the actress was previously Shen’s mistress, or netizens connecting Tong Liya’s relations with such an influential and powerful person to her role at the previous CCTV Spring Gala Festival.

But these rumors did not stay online for long, and the quick censorship itself became somewhat of a spectacle. As reported by China Digital Times, the topic ‘Tong Liya’s Remarriage’ (‘佟丽娅再婚’) was completely taken offline.

Following the rumors and censorship, it first was announced that Tong reported the online rumors about her to the police, with the hashtag “Tong Liya Reports the Case to Authorities” (#佟丽娅报案#) receiving over 310 million clicks. On December 23rd, the hashtag “Beijing Police is Handling Tong Liya’s Report” (#北京警方受理佟丽娅报案#) went viral online, attracting over 1.7 billion (!) views on Weibo within three days.

The Beijing Haidian police statement on Weibo is as follows:

In response to the recent rumors on the Internet, the public security authorities have accepted Tong Liya’s report, and the case is now under investigation. The internet is not a place beyond the law, and illegal acts such as starting rumors and provoking trouble will be investigated and punished according to the law.”

The statement led to some confused responses among netizens who wanted to know more about what was actually reported and what it is the police are exactly ‘investigating.’

On Twitter, Vice reporter Viola Zhou wrote that the censorship “angered many young people,” some of whom lost their social media accounts for discussing Tong Liya’s second marriage: “It’s now prompting a mass pushback against the potential abuse of censorship power.”

In an attempt to circumvent censorship, and perhaps also ridicule it, some netizens even resorted to morse code to write about Tong Liya.

One Weibo post about the issue by Legal Daily received over 3000 comments, yet none were displayed at the time of writing.

The case is allegedly still being investigated by Beijing authorities.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

China’s Livestreaming Queen Viya Goes Viral for Fraud and Fines, Ordered to Pay $210 Million

Viya, the Queen of Taobao, is under fire for tax evasion.

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Viya, one of China’s most well-known and successful live streamers, is trending today for allegedly committing tax fraud by deliberately providing false information and concealing personal income.

The ‘Taobao queen’ Viya (薇娅, real name Huang Wei 黄薇) reportedly committed tax fraud from 2019 to 2020, during which she evaded some 643 million yuan ($100 million) in taxes and also failed to pay an additional 60 million yuan ($9.4 million) in taxes.

The Hangzhou Tax Administration Office reportedly ordered Viya to pay an amount of over 1.3 billion yuan ($210 million) in taxes, late payment fees, and other fines. On Monday, a hashtag related to the issue had garnered over 600 million views on Weibo (#薇娅偷逃税被追缴并处罚款13.41亿元#).

Viya made headlines in English-language media earlier this year when she participated in a promotional event for Single’s Day on October 20th and managed to sell 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in merchandise in just one live streaming session together with e-commerce superstar Lipstick King.

China has a booming livestreaming e-commerce market, and Viya is one of the top influencers to have joined the thriving online sales industry years ago. When the e-commerce platform Taobao started their Taobao Live initiative (mixing online sales with livestreams), Viya became one of their top sellers as millions of viewers starting joining her channel every single day (she livestreams daily at 7.30 pm).

With news about Viya’s tax fraud practices and enormous fines going viral on Chinese social media, many are attacking the top influencer, as her tax fraud case seems to be even bigger than that of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing (范冰冰).

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing went “missing” for months back in 2018 when she was at the center of a tax evasion scandal. The actress was ordered to pay taxes and fines worth hundreds of millions of yuan over tax evasion. The famous actress eventually paid approximately $128,5 million in taxes and fines, less than Viya was ordered to pay this month.

Like Fan Bingbing, Viya will also not be held criminally liable if the total amount is paid in time. This was the first time for the e-commerce star to be “administratively punished” for tax evasion.

Around 5pm on Monday, Viya posted a public apology on her Weibo account, saying she takes on full responsibility for the errors she made: “I was wrong, and I will bear all the consequences for my mistakes. I’m so sorry!”

It is not clear if she will still do her daily live stream later today and how this news will impact Viya’s future career.

Update: Vaya’s live stream was canceled.

Update 2: Vaya’s husband also issued an apology on Weibo.

Update 3: Taobao has suspended or ‘frozen’ (“冻结”) Vaya’s livestreaming channel. Her Taobao store is still online.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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