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China sanctions comedy industry $2m over military joke

A comedy company in China has been slammed by the government with a fine of 14.7 million Yuan ($2.13 million) over a military joke by one of the comedians that China alleged has drawn public disapproval and has caused harm in the society.

According to the Beijing office of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau, the Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media Co will be fined 13.35 million Yuan.

It also said that it would seize 1.35 million Yuan in “illegal gains” from the company after learning that Li Haoshi, who plays under the stage name House, broke the regulations during a recent performance.

The episode revealed the boundaries of acceptable content in China, where the government mandates that it must advance essential communist principles, and sharply split the Chinese public about what jokes were unsuitable as performances like stand-up comedy become more and more popular.

Li gained popularity earlier this week on Chinese social media when a spectator described a joke Li had made at a live stand-up performance in Beijing on May 13 as insulting to China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in an online post.

Li told a joke about seeing two stray dogs he had taken in chase a squirrel, saying it reminded him of the Chinese proverb “have a good work style, be able to fight and win battles,” which Chinese President Xi Jinping cited in 2013 to compliment the PLA’s work ethic.

While noting that future performances from Xiaoguo Culture would not be permitted in Beijing, the cultural bureau said, “We will never allow any company or individual use the Chinese capital as a stage to wantonly slander the glorious image of the PLA.”

In reaction to the penalty, Xiaoguo Culture claimed that major management flaws were to blame for the incident and that Li’s contract had been terminated.

Li was unavailable for comment right, and it appears that Weibo has forbidden him from posting to his account there.

Since its establishment in Shanghai in 2015, Xiaoguo Culture has become more well-known for helping hundreds of regional comedians gain recognition. Its growth has mirrored China’s acceptance of stand-up comedy.

The company, one of the most popular in the country, and its performers have previously been in trouble with the law.

The company was hit with a 200,000 Yuan punishment in July 2021 for running commercials featuring a comedian endorsing lingerie with remarks that were deemed to objectify women.

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