Young crosstalk artist sparks outrage for insensitive jokes about the Wenchuan earthquake

Society & Culture
Madame Chiang Kai-shek at the Cairo Conference in 1943 with Churchill, Roosevelt, and her husband, the Generalissimo.

Zhāng Yúnléi 张云雷, a rising performer from China’s most distinguished crosstalk group, Déyúnshè 德云社, recently sparked public outrage after a video surfaced of him making jokes about the Wenchuan earthquake during a New Year’s Eve show in Qingdao earlier this year.

May 12 marked the 11th anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan Province, which claimed more than 69,000 lives.

Zhang performed with his partner Yáng Jiŭláng 杨九郎. At the 32:45 mark in the above video, Zhang talks about Yang’s family, saying that Yang’s three older sisters haven’t visited home often since their marriages.

“His oldest sister is married to a guy from Tangshan, his second sister is married to a guy from Wenchuan, and his third sister is married to a guy from Yushu,” Zhang jokes.

Yang replies: “My sisters have good fortune, right? These men are all (earthquake) survivors.”

This controversial part was subtitled and circulated on Chinese social media on May 12. It went viral after state media channel Zĭguānggé 紫光阁 wrote on its Weibo account: “Ethics should be the base for every artist who is a public figure…the quality and morality of an artist’s work should be polished.” The comment hinted that Zhang’s misconduct led to mass criticism from internet users.

At midnight on May 13, Zhang posted an apology on Weibo, writing that he felt profoundly regretful about his joke. He also stressed that he alone was at fault, and not his agency Deyunshe. “From now on, I will work harder to build my artistic ethics and improved my self-discipline,” he vowed, “(I will) ensure that ethics always come before performance, and give back better work in return for the love and support of the audience, and the expectations from society.”


(State-owned social media Zi guang-ge紫光阁’s post)

apology letter

(Zhang Yunlei’s apology on Weibo)

Born in 1992, Zhang is one of Deyunshe’s most popular performers. Over the years, the young comedian’s handsome looks and engaging style have earned him a solid fan base and 5.78 million followers on Weibo.

His legion of dedicated fans has a reputation for idolizing him as a mega pop star. The intensity of his fandom takes on various forms, including hopping around airports just to greet him, creating adoring accounts on social media, and delivering concert-level cheering during his performances.

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Zhang’s fans are showing unwavering support. Under his apology post, one user wrote, “We are sincerely sorry about this incident, please give the young artist some time, we will grow together.” Another fan also apologized to the public on Zhang’s behalf, commenting, “We will work hard together and be cautious about our words and behaviors.”