China's most watched show causes fury over jokes mocking unmarried women, female officials

China's annual Lunar New Year variety show, which mocked unmarried women and suggested female officials provide sexual favors to get promoted, has led to online outrage and some state media to urge more attention to discrimination against women.

Sexism at the gala is nothing new. But following last week's program, women's rights activists sent an open letter to broadcasting regulators demanding that reruns of the show be suspended, that the director and state broadcaster China Central Television apologize and that regulators halt discriminatory programs.

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This year's gala was directed by a woman, Ha Wen, who hasn't publicly commented on the criticism.

Despite waning viewership, the gala is the country's most watched program — by a reported 690 million people this year — and is used to push political messages. Sketches this year referred to President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign.

In one sketch, a female official insinuated she had slept with her boss when giving advice to a subordinate about how to advance her career. In another, a woman in her 20s complained that she didn't have a boyfriend, so her brothers brought out a model, causing the sister to criticize her own body.

Letter signatory Feng Yuan said activists counted 44 examples of sexism in the 4 1/2-hour show.

"We know sex discrimination has existed in China for several thousands of years and has become part of people's lives. The gala will allow people to continue to stereotype women in this way, and let people think they are humorous if they offend women," she said.

Calls to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television rang unanswered Wednesday, and CCTV had no immediate comment.

The China Daily newspaper said in an editorial Wednesday that the letter raised an "essential topic" that had been ignored for too long. It "should not be swept under the carpet in a country that calls itself civilized, and which aspires to flaunt its soft power globally," it said.


Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.