Red Star

Li Yundi

Prince of the piano


Li Yundi, 39, was born in Chongqing. His musical career began when he was just three years-old when he took up the accordion after seeing it played at a performance in a shopping mall. Neither of his parents had musical backgrounds but he showed a natural affinity for the instrument. When he was seven he began playing the piano, a luxury pastime for his working-class parents at the time. But his talent was obvious and Li later moved to Shenzhen to study at the Shenzhen Arts School.

Why is he famous?

The pianist shot to fame in 2000 when he was 18, becoming the youngest ever winner of the International Chopin Piano Competition. Since then, he’s been a headline performer at concert halls around the world. Inevitably, over the years he has been pitted against Lang Lang, who’s the same age and another internationally feted classical pianist from China.

Why is Li in the news?

Last week, Li made headlines for less harmonious reasons when Beijing’s Chaoyang district police issued a statement that they had arrested a 39 year-old man surnamed Li, along with a suspected 29 year-old female prostitute surnamed Chen. Although Li wasn’t identified by his full name, the People’s Daily later confirmed that it was the pianist. In China, soliciting prostitution is illegal and typically leads to administrative detention of between 10 and 15 days.

The police charge will deal a massive blow to Li’s career, as evidenced by the fact that much of his online presence was erased seemingly overnight. His weibo account was shut down and coverage of his recital performances was also deleted. Producers for the hugely popular reality competition series Call Me By Fire on Hunan Satellite TV were also working overtime to cut him out of standalone footage from the show (or blur out his face if he was filmed in a fuller group with other contestants).

“No matter how skilled he is, he will not be able to convey his sadness through performance now his image is damaged,” People’s Daily lectured in a social media post. “There can only be a future by advocating morality and abiding by the law,” the newspaper added.

Netizens expressed their disbelief. “Apart from being shocked, I am also heartbroken,” one fan lamented.

Professional music circles soon called time on the disgraced pianist. The Sichuan Conservatory of Music, which hired Li as deputy head of its Piano Art Institute, quickly scratched his name from its website and official weibo account.

The China Musicians Association, the country’s largest musical organisation, revoked his membership as a consequence of the “wide public attention and extremely bad social influence” that his conduct had caused. The China Association of Performing Arts also urged its members to shun Li for his “unlawful and immoral behaviour”.

Not the first celebrity scandal…

Others compared Li’s scandal with that of pop singer Kris Wu, who has also been in police custody at the Chaoyang station on sexual assault charges. “Men! They need to watch their @[email protected], otherwise they will end up like Kris Wu and now Li Yundi. All the success they have worked so hard for in the last 20 years disappeared down the drain,” wrote one blogger.

Other netizens were in more forgiving mood, believing that soliciting a prostitute could be “an act of rebellion” for the pianist. “Even though I know that prostitution breaks the law, I think Li should be forgiven. A lot of music prodigies suppress their emotions and more often than not, come from families with very strong parents. After all, no normal children would be willing to sacrifice so much play time to practice their music,” one more generous contributor claimed.

“It’s lucky that Lang Lang has found a woman he loves. If Gina [Lang Lang’s wife] wasn’t so attractive, he could be next,” another mused.

© 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.