Comedy firm in China fined $2 Million for military banter 

A joke that cost $2 million. Image: First Post.

By Tsering Choephel

DHARAMSALA, 19 May: China has slapped a heavy fine on a comedy firm over a banter for a joke that drew a similarity between China’s military to stray dogs, spotlighting Beijing’s sensitivity and its increasing control of expressions. 

Li Hash, a comedian who goes by the stage name House, told a joke about how his adopted two stray dogs chase after squirrels reminded him of the popular Chinese military slogan which roughly translates to – “maintain employ conduct, fight to win,” a slogan Chinese President Xi Jinping used in 2013 to praise the PLA’s work ethic.

The comparison Li made between the PLA and stray dogs during his comedy show at the Century Theater in Beijing over the weekend has antagonised the authority. 

Beijing Municipal Culture and Tourism Bureau has charged Li with ‘severely insulting’ the PLA, saying his joke was” a bad social influence.”

According to CNN, the bureau has announced that “a subsidiary of the firm would be fined $1.91 million and deprived of $189,000 it made in “illegal gains” – an apparent reference to Li’s two live shows last weekend. 

The Shanghai-based studio company, Xiaoguo Culture Media has also been indefinitely suspended from hosting any performances in the capital. 

While police in Beijing opened an investigation into Li, claiming his performance had “seriously insulted” the military and caused a “bad social impact,” the comedy firm has been suspended indefinitely from staging any shows in Beijing, 

“We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly slander the glorious image of the People’s Liberation Army on a stage in the [Chinese] capital, never allow the people’s deep feelings for the soldiers to be hurt, and never allow serious subjects to be turned into an entertainment,” read a statement issued by China’s Municipal Culture and Tourism Bureau. 

Both the Studio and Mr Li have issued an apology statement online.

“I will take all the responsibility and call off all my performances to deeply reflect and reeducate myself,” Li said in a post on Weibo, China’s largest social media network. 

Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media, one of the biggest stand-up comedy show producers in China has since distanced itself from the comedian and declared that “..we will take the initiative to assume more social responsibility and strengthen the training and education of actors.”

According to media reports, the comedian went viral on Chinese social media after an audience member from the comedian’s show posted online a description of a joke he had made at a live stand-up set in Beijing, describing it as demeaning to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Beijing’s ridiculous sensitivity to what seems to be an innocuous joke is no surprise. In 2017, imagery of Winnie the Pooh, the popular cartoon character of a teddy bear, has been censored in China after its resemblance to Chinese President Xi Jinping went viral online. 

Under the guise of creating a ‘national security’ and harmonious society, Chinese authorities restrict, repress and persecute any form of expressions and activities that the government deems to be critical or in opposition to its policy and image. 

China, under Xi’s rule, has seen an increase in the range and intensification of censorship in all sectors of the country. Reporter Without Borders (RWB) ranked China second last in the list, just above North Korea, in freedom of the press.

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