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Chinese comedian’s PLA pun will lead to more censorship. No space for humour in Xi’s China

Although unconfirmed, rumours of comedian Li Haoshi’s Japanese nationality was enough to rile up Chinese nationalists.

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Chinese social media users remember Galwan soldiers as a comedian gets arrested for mocking the People’s Liberation Army. President Xi Jinping doles out development assistance to visiting Central Asian leaders, but reveals no ‘new blueprint’. And Chinese fashion giant Shein plans to make a return in India. Chinascope brings you stories of humour and rumours from China – and the world.

China over the week

Xi announced development support to Central Asian countries that had gathered for the China-Central Asia Summit, which concluded on 19 May.

“To bolster our cooperation and Central Asian development, China will provide Central Asian countries with 26 billion yuan ($3.8 billion) of financing support and grants,” said Xi in his keynote speech at the Summit.

Despite much hype, “no new blueprint” was offered, according to The Diplomat’s Central Asia expert, Catharine Putz.

Following the Summit, a 54-point outcome list was issued, which included a comprehensive plan to boost trade, investment and people-to-people ties between China and the five Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All participating countries will forumate a New Economic Dialogue Strategy, which is one of the 54 outcomes.

Though economic development may appear to be the thrust of the Summit’s declaration, we can’t miss the focus on security in Xi’s era.

The word ‘security’ appeared 18 times on the China-Central Asia Summit in the Summit declaration. Even Xi mentioned ‘security’ eight times in his keynote speech for the Summit.

Standing in front of the iconic Ziyun Pavilion in Tang Paradise, a theme park at Xi’an city in the Shaanxi province of northwest China, President Xi and the five Central Asia leaders waved at the cameras. The subtext of the Chinese President’s opulent welcome was the vision to revive a China-centric order with Central Asia acting as the gateway to Europe and beyond. Xi even mentioned a Tang Dynasty poet in his speech.

“His referencing a Tang Dynasty poet was perhaps unintentionally ironic. During the Tang Dynasty, Chinese expansion westward was halted in Central Asia at the Battle of Talas in 751 AD. It’s clear from the recent Summit that Chinese expansion westward may have been delayed by centuries but has not been denied,” wrote Catharine Putz.

“The parties believe that security and development are the issues facing the international community today. The Central Asian countries highly appreciate and are willing to actively practice the global development initiative, global security initiative and global civilization initiative proposed by China,” said the China-Central Asia Summit declaration.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) once again struggled to deal with ‘humour’ this week.

Li Haoshi, a Chinese comedian—nicknamed House—was arrested for his oblique pun targeting the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The outrage following Li’s on-stage performance was seen everywhere on Chinese social mediafrom Weibo to Zhihu.

The hashtag ‘House was investigated by the police’ was viewed 1.1 billion times on Weibo.

Li’s joke cost him, and the company that represented him, dearly. The Shanghai-based comedy firm Xiaoguo Culture, which organised his shows, was fined 13.35 million yuan (over $2 million). Li’s accounts on Weibo and other platforms were banned.

He made a pun about mountain dogs charging at a squirrel and even used a PLA slogan to make his point. The serving and retired military personnel took to WeChat to express their outrage against the comedian.

“Usually, you see dogs, and you think how cute they are, and your heart melts…When I see these two dogs, my heart flashes with the words: ‘Able to win battles, with first-rate style,’” said Li during his performance.

The phrase ‘Able to win battles, with first-rate style’ is one of the PLA propaganda slogans coined by Xi, illustrating his vision to transform the army into a world class force.

While commenting on Li’s case, a Weibo user named ‘Xu Ji’s Observation’ with three million followers shared pictures of young Chinese soldier Xiao Siyuan, who died during the Galwan clash.

The social media accounts of Malaysian comedian Nigel Ng, popular as Uncle Roger, were also cancelled after he poked fun at China’s surveillance state.

Rumours circulated on Weibo that Li Haoshi is a Japanese national. Although unconfirmed, it was enough for the ultra-nationalists of China to blame Li for his ‘subversive’ comments. The assumption is that a ‘good Chinese’ won’t mock the PLA.

The fallout from the Li incident may continue to reverberate for a long time in China as some events by foreign music bands were cancelled in the recent days. Events, including music festivals in Beijing, a convention for female tech entrepreneurs in Shanghai and a concert by a Japanese band in Guangzhou, were cancelled without any explanation, according to reporting by Bloomberg.

The comedian’s arrest has sent a chill across the country. The move will only make people self-censor any oblique criticism of the government – shrinking space for free expression. In Xi’s China, there is no space for humour or rumour.

Also read: China is making national security a priority, starting with crackdown on open source data

China in world news

In 2020, Shein, a fast-fashion company became the victim of India-China tensions. Now, it is making a comeback through a partnership with Reliance Retail.

The brand, which primarily sells clothing via an app, was banned by the Indian government in June 2020 after the deadly clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the western Himalayas.

“With this agreement, Shein is likely to source fabrics from small businesses in India, said the people familiar with the matter. They said that could help Shein diversify its supply chain beyond China, as it faces scrutiny in the U.S. over the sourcing of cotton,” reported Wall Street Journal.

The return of Shein tells us that Chinese companies will use creative ways to get back into the Indian market. But can we assume that Beijing has no influence over the clothing brand after it moved its office from the mainland? That’s a hard one to bite.

Must read this week

How a Tibetan Village Became a Giant Factory for Buddhist Art – Wu Peiyue

The Myth of India buying too much from China – Somnath Mukherjee

Slogan not funny (Not a bit) State Media Says – David Bandurski

China’s Status Anxiety – Rohan Mukherjee

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