Comedy company fined $2 million for military prank in China

BEIJING (Reuters) – A joke by a Chinese comedian that vaguely references a slogan used to describe the country’s military has cost an entertainment company more than $2 million after Chinese authorities hit it massive fines, CNN reported.
The heavy punishment underscores the fine line comedians must walk in China’s increasingly tight and widely censored social climate, as well as the severe consequences for those in the entertainment industry who are seen to have crossed it.
Li Haoshiwhose stage name is House, came to the attention of authorities this week after using a word linked to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during a comedy concert at the Century Theater in Beijing this weekend.
As official criticism intensified, Li canceled all of his shows, and the company that represents him, Shanghai Xiaoguo Cultural Mediaissued an apology, according to CNN.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism announced on Wednesday that a subsidiary of the company would be penalized $1.91 million and stripped of $189,000 in ‘illegal earnings’ – an apparent reference to the two live events from Li last weekend. The company, for an indefinite period, has also been banned from performing in the capital.
On Wednesday evening, Beijing police announced an investigation into Li, saying his performance had “seriously insulted” the military and had a “bad social impact”.
In 2021, China passed a law banning insults and slander against the military.
A former investigative journalist was sentenced to seven months in prison last year after questioning China’s role in the Korean War, as depicted in a hit patriotic film.
Li’s joke may seem benign to many.
During the show, he began a skit about how, after arriving in Shanghai, he adopted two stray dogs, according to CNN.
According to audio recorded on Chinese social media site Weibo, he remarked that their hunt for a squirrel one day reminded him of eight sentences before triggering the controversial punchline.
“A refined style of work, capable of winning battles,” he remarked, referring to the PLA with a well-known Chinese Communist Party slogan.
The phrase was first used by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who also chairs the military, in 2013 when he listed the traits he expected from the country’s military. It has since been repeated at other public functions and in state media.
Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media is one of the largest comedy show producers in the country.
In a statement released Wednesday, authorities in Beijing ruled that Li’s presentation on Saturday involved “a conspiracy amounting to a serious insult to the People’s Liberation Army and causing bad social influence.”
The cultural authority said, “We will never allow any company or individual to gratuitously slander the glorious image of the People’s Liberation Army on a stage in the [Chinese] capital, never allow the deep feelings of the people for the soldiers to be hurt, and never allow serious matters to be turned into entertainment. »
Li previously apologized to his Weibo followers, writing, “I will take full responsibility and cancel all my performances to reflect deeply and re-educate myself.”
CNN reported that Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media suspended the comedian from all productions indefinitely.


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