Chinese Government Fines Comedian $2 Million for People’s Liberation Army Joke

Local authorities have opened an investigation into Li Haoshi for “humiliating material” against the organization that caused “very bad social effects”

BEIJING, CHINA – APRIL 06: French President Emmanuel Macron inspects an honor guard with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People on April 6, 2023 in Beijing, China. French President Macron is in China for a three-day state visit, seeking to change Chinese President Xi's stance on the Russia-Ukraine war, and improving European trade ties. (Photo by Ng Han Guan – Pool/Getty Images)

Chinese comedian Li Haoshi has been slapped with a $2 million fine after making a joke that mocked the People’s Liberation Army.

Haoshi’s comedy troupe, Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media, has been suspended indefinitely from performing in Beijing and ordered to forfeit 1.3 million yuan ($186,000) in income from performances in the capital and fined 13 million yuan ($1.9 million), according to a notice issued by Beijing’s city cultural and tourism regulator on Wednesday.

“The company and actor Li Haoshi wantonly tampered with the pre-approved content of the performance,” the notice stated, according to the South China Morning Post. “There was humiliating material against the People’s Liberation Army in two performances in the afternoon and evening of May 13, causing very bad social effects.”

Though the notice did not elaborate specifically on what the humiliating material was, reports on China’s social media said that Haoshi compared the PLA slogan “Fight to win, forge exemplary conduct” – a phrase coined by China’s president Xi Jinping in 2013 – to two dogs chasing a squirrel. According to the BBC, authorities said that China’s military had been “severely humiliated” by the stand-up comedian’s joke.

“We will never allow any company or individual to wantonly slander the glorious image of the army on any stage in the capital city … or to make fun of serious subject matters,” the regulator added, calling on the industry to “correct their creative thinking”.

In a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, the comedian expressed “deep remorse and regret” for using “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,” Haoshi, who goes under the stage name House, told his 136,000 followers.

Meanwhile, Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media has terminated Li’s contract and set up a department to review performances and avoid “ignorance that leads [us] into crossing political red lines”.

The controversy comes after China passed a law in 2021 banning slander and insults against military personnel.

Other Chinese comedians who have been fined for jokes country authorities did not find amusing include Li Bo who was ordered to pay 50,000 yuan last November for mocking the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Shanghai and teasing teenagers, according to the Morning Post.

The outlet noted that Beijing city police have opened a separate investigation into Li’s performance and that the China Association of Performing Arts told its members in a notice to boycott Li, while asking institutions to strengthen their management and education of performers and calling on the industry to show more self-discipline.