Chinese stand-up comedy warned to toe the line following viral joke about army

·1-min read
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A Chinese comedian was severely punished on Wednesday for making a joke about the People’s Liberation Army and his production company fined roughly two million dollars. This incident demonstrates that Chinese censors are now turning their attention to the small but growing world of stand-up comedy in China, which until now has enjoyed a certain measure of freedom.

On May 17, Chinese authorities imposed a record fine of 14.7 million yuan ($2.13 million) on the production company that employed comedian Li Haoshi and opened an investigation against him.

Li, whose stage name is "House", "seriously insulted the army" and thus dealt a heavy blow to "national honour" and "patriotic feelings", said the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism which imposed the fine on Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media.

Six words too many

"This is the first time that a joke about the army has been punished in China," said Olivia Cheung, a specialist in contemporary Chinese political history at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

This is a severe punishment for a joke that "may seem totally harmless and not necessarily very funny", said Marc Lanteigne, a Chinese studies professor at the Arctic University of Norway.

The joke in question invoked Li's two adopted stray dogs chasing a squirrel: "Normally, when you see dogs, you find them very cute at first. But when I looked at them, six words came to me: 'Maintain exemplary conduct, fight to win'."

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