China‘s military can’t take a joke. The Communist government in Beijing took action against a stand-up comic who made fun of the People’s Liberation Army during a recent comedy routine, according to reports from Asia.
Beijing police arrested Li Haoshi, the comedian, who was indicted and the company that hired him fined $1.2 million. Mr. Li is expected to be jailed as a result of the joke.
“We will never allow any company or individual to use the Chinese capital as a stage to wantonly slander the glorious image of the PLA,” the Beijing arm of China‘s Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau said in a statement this week.
The controversy began during a show at the Century Theater in Beijing last weekend.
Mr. Li during his stand-up routine remarked that he had adopted two stray dogs since he left Shanghai and moved to the capital city.
He then told the audience that his two dogs had chased a squirrel before delivering the punchline that they showed a fine style of work and were capable of winning battles.
The BBC translated the joke punchline as: “Other dogs you see would make you think they are adorable. These two dogs only reminded me of … ‘Fight to win, forge exemplary conduct.’”
The phrase tracks a well-known Chinese Communist Party slogan that has been linked to President Xi Jinping.
In 2013, Mr. Xi, who is also chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission, which controls the PLA, called on military forces to demonstrate qualities of discipline and to be capable of winning battles.
According to reports, the joke drew laughter from the audience at the show.
Video of the joke then circulated on Chinese media and the Twitter-like Weibo platform, producing an official rebuke from authorities.
Chinese social media was then the scene of a vigorous debate over whether Mr. Li was funny or disrespectful — the latter winning the day as the comedian was placed under investigation, and his social media account canceled on Monday. He was later arrested.
The probe was launched by the Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency and included an investigation into Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media, the company that sponsored Mr. Li. Both the company and Mr. Li attempted to distance themselves from the joke.
Mr. Li on social media expressed “deep remorse and regret” for using what he said was an “extremely unsuitable analogy to bring bad feeling and association to the audience.”
“I will take all the responsibility and call off all my performances to deeply reflect and reeducate myself,” said Mr. Li, who uses the stage name “House” and reportedly has 136,000 followers on Weibo.
The Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media said in a statement the joke was inappropriate and apologized.
“We have suspended his work indefinitely,” said the entertainment company that will increase education and training for its actors.
People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, said comedians must limit their speech and that it is a mistake to put humor before all things. Authorities have also banned many of the talk shows that have provided a platform for comedians that are popular with young people in China.
The arrest reflects intense censorship and limits on free speech in China where the communist system under Mr. Xi has stepped up controls.
A 2021 regulation bans slander and insults of Chinese military personnel.
• Bill Gertz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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