Beijing has fined a comedy production company GBP 1.5 million after one of its performers “disrespected Chinese soldiers”.
Stand-up comedian Li Haoshi, who goes by the stage name House, made the offending joke at a show held by Xiaoguo Culture Media at a theatre in the Chinese capital on 13th May.
Li told the audience how seeing his adopted stray dogs chasing squirrels reminded him of the widely-known military slogan: “Forge exemplary conduct, fight to win.”
After footage of the joke emerged online, state-controlled Chinese media reported that the authorities in Beijing had launched an investigation into the production company, calling it “a mistake to cross the line in mere pursuit of laughter”.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism announced on 17th May that Xiaoguo Culture Media had been fined CNY 13.3 million (GBP 1.5 million) over the joke.
It also announced that the production company’s upcoming shows had been “indefinitely suspended” amid the investigation.
After a backlash from patriotic netizens, Li took to social media on 15th May to write: “I deeply feel guilty and regretful regarding the discussions and controversies caused by the content of the performance on the evening of 13th May.
“I used highly inappropriate metaphors during the performance, which resulted in negative feelings and associations among the audience.
“I will take responsibility for this, cease all artistic activities, engage in profound self-reflection, and undertake further study.
“I apologise for taking up everyone’s valuable time and extend my sincere apologies once again!”
On the same day, Xiaoguo Culture Media announced the comedian’s “indefinite” suspension and made a pledge to ban any content “that doesn’t fall in line with core socialist values”.
Beijing passed a law banning slander and insults against military personnel in 2021.
China’s People’s Liberation Army has been accused of involvement in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, human rights abuses in Tibet and Xinjiang, militarisation of the South China Sea, cyber espionage and hacking, and encroaching on Indian territory, among other controversies.