- - Thursday, April 16, 2015

In the glorious days of “Saturday Night Live” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, comedian Kevin Nealon achieved critical acclaim as Mr. Subliminal, a character who would make normal, innocuous statements in his sketches but insert quick, sarcastic quips, unvarnished truth-telling messages intended to offend and amuse.

In a free country, the act brought Mr. Nealon fame and fortune. But a similar act in communist China has caused a major national scandal, prompting the outraged government to promise the harshest punishments for the offending act.

Bi Fujian, China’s Mr. Subliminal, was utterly surprised at being caught in the center of the scandal. At issue is an 80-second video clip that has gone viral on China’s Internet. Recorded at a private dinner table, the clip showed Mr. Bi singing a familiar aria from a Mao-era revolutionary Peking opera called “Taking Tiger Mountain by Clever Strategy,” a song that glorified the awesomeness and invincibility of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong and China’s troops.

Mr. Bi, who served in the Chinese navy for seven years, is now the country’s most famous TV personality, hosting the nation’s most popular “American Idol”-like singing competition, called the “Avenue of Stars,” and the annual Chinese New Year TV extravaganza called ChunWan, arguably the most-watched TV program in the world. In other words, he is a national celebrity on par with Ryan Seacrest or Dick Clark.

The aria Mr. Bi sang at the dinner table begins with the lyric, “I am a soldier of my worker and peasant brothers,” to which Mr. Bi added his subliminal, sarcastic comment, “Wow, I am a soldier!” When it comes to the line “I am here to wipe out all reactionaries,” Mr. Bi added, “Are you sure you really can defeat your enemy?” — an apparent reference to the national conversation over whether the thoroughly corrupt People’s Liberation Army, with so many “Big Tigers” caught in stupefying bribery scandals, can still fight battles.

But the most offending part of Mr. Bi’s extemporaneous dinner-table performance came after the lyric that says, “Leading us forward are the Communist Party and Chairman Mao.” Mr. Bi’s subliminal addition described Mao as “that [SOB] who has inflicted upon us so much pain!”

Mr. Bi was not done. Another line of the famous song reads, “Wherever the Red Flag waves, dark clouds dissipate and the people in the liberated areas struggle against the landlords and become the masters of the society again,” referring to the bloody Maoist land reform where millions were executed as landlords. On the video, Mr. Bi is heard adding a heretical commentary: “What have these landlords done to you to deserve their fate?”

As a military veteran, Mr. Bi fires a last Parthian shot at the corrupt PLA with the aria’s conclusion, “People’s army endures suffering together with the people, and we have come here to destroy and level the [enemy-occupied] Tiger Mountain.” At that point, he adds, “Stop boasting with such BS,” and, according to the video, is greeted with a round of thunderous applause from the dozen dinner guests.

The video clip was posted April 6, and went viral immediately with hundreds of thousands of viewers watching it and attempting to forward it to their friends.

Within 24 hours, China Central TV, where Mr. Bi is employed, issued a late-night directive banning all television programs on the massive network that have ever been hosted by Mr. Bi, who was summarily stripped of all hosting roles.

On April 8, CCTV officials said they had received instructions from the senior leadership of the party to severely punish Mr. Bi for the private dinner performance clip that has presumably lampooned the great Chairman Mao, the glorious Communist Party and the invincible People’s Liberation Army.

China’s massive Internet spying and state-sponsored rumormongering machine then kicked into high gear, spreading politically motivated spin and slander. Postings by unverifiable online sources quickly asserted that the Western woman shown in the video clip is a Ukrainian diplomat and the video was shot by a CIA operative working at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing with the intent to defame socialist China.

Mr. Bi’s private singing act suddenly became an international incident, with claims of insidious foreign black hands operating behind the scenes to insult China.

On April 9, the Ukrainian Embassy in Beijing issued on its official website a public and angry denial that any of its personnel were at the offending event.

On Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, herself a former CIA analyst, also categorically denied Chinese suggestions of CIA involvement, noting that there were no U.S. personnel at the dinner party, let alone any videotaping.

As for Mr. Bi, he apologized on April 10 for insulting a revolutionary leader and admitted that he was a “vulgar” celebrity.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected] and @Yu_miles.

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