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(Li Haoshi. Source: BBC)

China Arrest Comedian for Joking About the Chinese Army

Beijing police arrested Li Haoshi, a stand-up comedian and fined the company that hired Mr. Haoshi 14.7m yuan (US$2.1m) on May 18, 2023.  The police said Mr Haoshi, more popularly known by his stage name House, had “caused a severe social impact”. The authorities were referring to a remark made during Mr. Haoshi’s performance when he said his dogs “fought to win, forged exemplary conduct'” – a catchphrase that Chinese leader Xi Jinping has used while speaking about the military. The authorities and some Chinese nationalists felt the joke was offensive to the Chinese army.

“We will never allow any company or individual use the Chinese capital as a stage to wantonly slander the glorious image of the PLA [People’s Liberation Army],” said the Beijing arm of China’s culture ministry.

Mr Li’s Weibo account was suspended, and the company that hired him, Shanghai Xiaguo, also had its activities suspended in Beijing. BBC reported that “the size of the fine to the company which booked him was so large that there is speculation that stand-up comedy could be virtually wiped out in China following fears of similar punishment in the future.”

In additional reporting entitled China’s growing comedy scene feels censorship chill, Wei Wang of BBC reports that BBC tried contacting 13 comics and two managers in the aftermath of Li Haoshi’s detention and no one wanted to be interviewed. “There were about 18,500 live performances in 2021, raking in nearly 400 million yuan, according to a report by the China Association of Performing Arts.” People that were willing to speak were of the opinion that the actions of the authorities “will definitely intensify self-censorship within the industry.”