A photo doing the rounds on weibo shows six men in motorbike helmets, visors down, eating dinner in a restaurant. In the centre of the table, their mobile phones are piled up. They’re turned off and out of reach. The caption reads: “ Dinner with trusted friends”.
The joke is one of many since Bi Fujian, a well-known host on state channel CCTV, was suspended for making fun of Mao Zedong. Unfortunately for Bi, the mockery was caught on camera.
Attending what appears to have been a private dinner, a tipsy Bi decided to amuse other guests by singing a modified version of an aria from the model opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.
“With the Communist Party and Chairman Mao we have fought revolutionary battles in the north and south,” he warbles in a traditional vibrato.
He then stage whispers: “Don’t bring up that son of a bitch. It will just mean more hardship.”
The guests, including a few foreigners, laugh rather nervously and the clip ends with Bi issuing a warning not to share any recordings of his performance.
Someone obviously ignored the request, as footage of Bi’s routine appeared on weibo last week.
How it got there is unclear as the dinner guest seems to have hidden their tracks. But within two days, CCTV had suspended Bi, saying that the 56 year-old’s behaviour had “caused serious social impact”.
“We will conscientiously probe the matter and handle it seriously, in accordance with relevant rules and regulations,” the state broadcaster added pompously in a statement.
Other Party-run outlets, such as the website of the Communist Youth League, fell over themselves to chastise Bi, saying that he “owed China an apology”.
“Mao Zedong is a great man of an era, the creator of the republic. Without Mao, there would be no Communist Party. Then would Bi Fujian still be winning and dining, picking up his chopsticks to eat his meat and setting them down to call someone a son of a bitch?” the League’s article asked. “Not everyone and everything can be joked about and mocked without consideration, even if it’s at a private gathering or in the private domain.”
The Global Times took a more gentle line, describing Bi’s behaviour as “quite vulgar”. “If what he sang is really what he thinks, then it is understandable that many people are disappointed in him,” it concluded.
Worryingly for Bi, “vulgarity” is very much the enemy of the moment, with Chinese president Xi Jinping and his supporters regularly targeting vulgar behaviour in their battle to “purify” the internet and the Chinese arts scene.
Speaking at a symposium of writers and other artists last October, Xi said that “popularity should not mean vulgarity” and that “art should serve the people and socialism”.
In such a climate, it will be no surprise if Bi doesn’t return to his broadcasting duties. Signs that he is leaving are mounting: his shows have been taken off-air and all mention of him has been removed from the CCTV website.
Two days into his suspension – which was only supposed to last four days – he issued a heartfelt apology saying that he felt deep remorse for the “detrimental impact” that his actions had caused.
His slip-up follows the cases of other senior CCTV staff to fall foul of the authorities (see WiC240 and 246). But while Bi may have lost his job, he appears to have gained a few new fans along the way. “I never liked Bi much, but now I think he has some depth,” one netizen commented. “We don’t need his apology, what should he apologise for? He only told the truth,” wrote another.
Others purported to be disgusted by his behaviour. “What kind of staff does CCTV have? People who insult leaders behind their backs yet praise them on-stage? They are just professional liars!” one fumed.
“If he feels this way, he should have resigned years ago,” another agreed.
© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.
Sponsored by HSBC.
The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.