Beijing, China – In a move that has sparked controversy and public debate, the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau has imposed a hefty penalty of 14.7 million yuan ($2.13 million) on Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media Co, one of China’s well-known comedy companies. The fine comes in response to a recent joke made by one of the company’s comedians, Li Haoshi, during a live stand-up performance that allegedly breached rules and was deemed as “harming society.”
The incident, which occurred during a show in Beijing on May 13, caused a significant divide among the Chinese public regarding the boundaries of appropriate humor as stand-up comedy gains popularity. The joke in question involved Li recounting a story about his adopted stray dogs chasing a squirrel and making a reference to a slogan used by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 to praise the work ethic of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This joke was perceived by some as demeaning to the PLA.
The Beijing arm of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau took swift action, imposing a fine of 13.35 million yuan on Xiaoguo Culture and confiscating 1.35 million yuan in “illegal gains.” The bureau accused the company of breaching regulations and promoting content that was detrimental to society.
“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,” declared the cultural bureau, further announcing that Xiaoguo Culture would be banned from staging future shows in Beijing.
In response to the fine, Xiaoguo Culture released a statement blaming the incident on “major loopholes in management” and asserting that they have terminated Li Haoshi’s contract. The company acknowledged its responsibility for the controversy and expressed its commitment to upholding the principles of appropriate content and social harmony.
Li Haoshi, who performs under the name House, rose to prominence as a comedian through Xiaoguo Culture. However, he has been unavailable for comment since the incident, and his account on the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo appears to have been banned from posting.
Founded in Shanghai in 2015, Xiaoguo Culture has been at the forefront of promoting stand-up comedy in China, helping to raise the profile of numerous local comedians. However, this is not the first time the company has faced scrutiny from authorities. In July 2021, Xiaoguo Culture was fined 200,000 yuan for running advertisements that featured a comedian endorsing a lingerie brand, with comments that were criticized for objectifying women.
The incident involving Xiaoguo Culture and Li Haoshi’s joke has ignited a wider conversation in China about the limits of humor, censorship, and the promotion of core socialist values. As the country grapples with the rise of stand-up comedy and its impact on society, there is a growing need to strike a balance between artistic expression and adhering to the guidelines set by the authorities.