Comedy troupe hit with £1.7 million fine by Chinese authorities after military gag

Soldiers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) are seen before a giant screen as Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019 (REUTERS)
Soldiers of People's Liberation Army (PLA) are seen before a giant screen as Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China October 1, 2019 (REUTERS)

A Chinese comedy troupe has been hit with a £1.7million ($2.13 million) fine by authorities after one of its entertainers made a joke about the military.

Li Haoshi, who performs under the name House, went viral on the country’s social media after an audience member posted a description of the joke after a stand-up set in Beijing on May 13.

In the joke, Li recounted seeing two stray dogs he had adopted chase a squirrel and said it had reminded him of the phrase “have a good work style, be able to fight and win battles”.

The punchline is a slogan Chinese president Xi Jinping used in 2013 to praise the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) work ethic.

Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media Co, the group who Li belongs to, was accused of “harming society” by authorities and the incident has sparked debate amongst the Chinese public as to what type of jokes are inappropriate.

The Beijing arm of China‘s Ministry of Culture and Tourism Bureau determined that the comedy group had breached rules and fined it £1.7million ($2.13 million)

“We will never allow any company or individual 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 the capital.

In response to the fine, the group blamed the incident on “major loopholes in management” and said it had terminated Li’s contract.

Reuters could not immediately reach Li for comment and Weibo, the microblogging site popular in China, appears to have banned him from posting to his account there.

Founded in Shanghai in 2015, Xiaoguo Culture’s popularity has grown in sync with China‘s embrace of stand-up comedy and had known for raising the profile of hundreds of local comedians.

The firm and its artists have fallen foul of authorities before. In July 2021, the company was fined 200,000 yuan for publishing advertisements that featured a comedian endorsing a lingerie brand with comments said to objectify women.

Additional reporting by Reuters