His whereabouts are unknown, but all companies associated with him are being fined or prohibited from working, and other comedians are prudently closing shop.
by Hu Zimo
One month ago, all Chinese and international media covered the case of comedian Li Haoshi, who goes under the stage name of “House.”
On May 13, during a show in Beijing, Li made a joke about his two adopted stray dogs, which had bravely chased a squirrel. He said about them that they “display excellent conduct and are capable of winning their battles” (作风优良，能打胜仗). This may look innocent enough but, in reverse order, “be capable of winning battles with excellent conduct” (能打胜仗，作风优良), is a motto for the Chinese Army (PLA) created by none other than Xi Jinping himself in 2013 and shouted by soldiers during parades and other solemn occasions.
Somebody in the CCP believed Li was poking fun at the PLA and perhaps even at Xi Jinping himself, which led to immediate reaction. Li was detained (his whereabouts are presently unknown), the company for which he worked had to pay an enormous fine of 13 million yuan (in excess of $1.8 million), and the box office revenue of the show was confiscated. The company was prevented from performing “indefinitely” in Beijing and Shanghai but, despite having promptly fired Li, after a few days gave up and announced it had stopped all performances of all its artists nationwide.
Then, the hype in international media, which had discovered that there is in China a “Cultural Enforcement Brigade,” i.e., a cultural police watching artists and performances, subsided. But in China the incident is not over.
On June 16, the China-Japan Youth Exchange Center Century Theater in Beijing, where the performance took place, was fined 100,000 yuan ($13,942) by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism. Meanwhile, a woman in Dalian City was detained for posting an online remark arguing that Li did not want to offend the Army or the Party.
One after the other, not only in Beijing, companies organizing satirical or comedy shows are closing shop spontaneously, regarding their activities as too dangerous in China. The regime is not afraid of those who cry. But the incident shows it is mightily afraid of those who laugh.