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No laughing matter: China fines comedian almost €2 million for joking about the military

Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers march in formation during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing
Chinese People's Liberation Army soldiers march in formation during a parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing Copyright Mark Schiefelbein/AP
Copyright Mark Schiefelbein/AP
By Katy Dartford with Reuters
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Have you heard the one about two stray dogs? A quip comparing the Chinese military's behaviour to man's best friend has left Chinese comedian Li Haoshi with a big fine to pay.

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One of China's best-known comedy companies has been slapped with a 14.7 million yuan (€1.94 million) penalty over a joke about the military that invoked a slogan from President Xi Jinping.

The quip by Li Haoshi, who performs under the name 'House', likened the military's conduct to the behaviour of the comedian's dogs.

The Beijing arm of China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau said Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media and the comic had "humiliated the people's army".

Li went viral on Chinese social media earlier this week after an audio recording of the performance,  made at a live stand-up set in Beijing on May 13, was posted online. Beijing authorities launched an investigation on Tuesday after a member of the audience described it as demeaning.

In the joke, Li alluded to two stray dogs he had adopted which were chasing a squirrel.

He said it had reminded him of the phrase that President Xi unveiled in 2013 as a goal for China's People's Liberation Army (PLA), to;  "have a good work style, be able to fight and win battles".

The comedy troupe was fined 13.35 million yuan (€1.76 million) for breaching rules and  1.35 million yuan (€180,000) was confiscated for "illegal gains".

"We will never allow any company or individual to use the Chinese capital as a stage to wantonly slander the glorious image of the PLA," the cultural bureau said, adding that Xiaoguo Culture would be barred from staging any future shows in Beijing.

In response, the company blamed the incident on "major loopholes in management" and terminated Mr Li's contract, whose account on China's Twitter-like platform Weibo has also been blocked.

The incident has strongly divided the Chinese public over what sort of jokes are inappropriate for stand-up comedy. It also highlighted the limits of appropriate content in China where authorities say it must promote core socialist values.

Founded in Shanghai in 2015, Xiaoguo Culture's popularity has grown in line with China's embrace of stand-up comedy and it's known for having raised the profile of hundreds of local comedians.

It's not the first time the firm and its artists have fallen foul of authorities. In July 2021, the company was fined 200,000 yuan (€26,000) for publishing adverts that featured a comedian endorsing a lingerie brand with comments said to objectify women.

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