Inside China: Military entertainers

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) operates a large “entertainment corps” known for its extraordinary privilege, unique access to power elites and wasteful extravagance. Now President Xi Jinping is vowing to tighten controls on military entertainers.

Created as part of ideological indoctrination and political propaganda efforts inside the PLA, the entertainment corps has become a key arm of the Communist Party’s control over combat troops who are required to perform songs and dances and in concerts and stage plays that conform to party dogma.

But the role of indoctrination for PLA entertainers has mutated over the years.

Communist Party founder Mao Zedong was notorious for womanizing military singers and dancers. A recent memoir by a former air force chief revealed that during much of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the most powerful people in the air force were two of Mao’s mistresses, both from the air force’s Song and Dance Troupe.

In addition, several current leading female military entertainers are widely rumored to be mistresses of senior party leaders.

The public has reacted with outrage and ridicule, amid growing popular resentment against the privileges of high-profile military entertainers.

A case in point is the current gang-rape trial involving the 17-year-old son of a high-level tenor named Li Shuangjiang. Trial details leaked from the courtroom have fueled anger on the street over privileged military entertainers and their relatives.

Some entertainers use their status to profit from performances at expensive public concerts and private parties for the rich and powerful. Others perform in uniform at bars, private clubs and hotels for illicit money.

The senior party leadership apparently has had enough. Mr. Xi recently approved the publication of new regulations specifically aimed at reining in the PLA entertainment corps.

“The Regulation on Regulating Large-Scale Entertainment Performances and Strengthening the Management of Entertainment Corps” was published last week and promulgated by the PLA’s General Political Department. It states that “no military entertainers shall be allowed to perform acts detrimental to the image of our army and our soldiers, to take part in any performances at private parties, singing parlors and bars, and to perform abroad without special permission.”

The regulation also bans high-ranking entertainers from calling themselves “general” or “admiral.”

Under PLA rules on rank and designations, officers in uniform are classified into two main categories — regular military and “civilian cadres.” Senior military entertainers fall into the “civilian cadres” category but wear uniforms virtually identical to those of regular officers.

Because of this, some “civilian cadres” have abused their status. They often are referred to in public as “civilian general” or “civilian admiral,” prompting resentment from inner circles of the PLA hierarchy and the public.

“[Military entertainers] should voluntarily purify the environment in which they work, live and make friends,” the regulation says.

Many think Mr. Xi’s move is based on the urging of his wife, Peng Liyuan, China’s glamorous first lady and a true believer in the PLA mission. She is the most senior military entertainer in the nation.

Ms. Peng, 50, an accomplished soprano and folk singer, is the superintendent of the PLA’s Academy of Arts, the primary training ground for military entertainers.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @yu_miles.

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