A popular comedian, actor, household name, and regime mouthpiece in China, Uncle Benshan, is apparently on an imminent collision course with a nationwide anti-corruption campaign. Netizens and Chinese media are speculating about what’s to become of Uncle Benshan.
Also known by his real name, Zhao Benshan is best known for his regular appearances in the state-run CCTV’s New Year’s Gala from 1990 to 2011. He has also long been known to be an entertainer who serves the aims of the Chinese regime’s ideology.
“If you are neither politically engaged nor a believer in our Party, what’s the point of getting involved in the arts?” Zhao said in an interview with the Chinese news website The Paper on Nov. 1.
Perhaps it’s Zhao’s political zeal that’s gotten him into trouble.
Zhao Benshan in trouble? Photo w Wang Lijun (and Lei Zhengfu?) pic.twitter.com/jmjRJpsWWv
— Patrick Boehler 包蟠睿 (@mrbaopanrui) December 28, 2014
He was mentioned in an article titled “A Secret Regarding Bo Xilai and Zhao Benshan” posted on the mainland Chinese Internet portal Sohu on Dec. 26. The author was Jiang Weiping, recipient of a 2001 International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists, who was once imprisoned for writing an article accusing Bo Xilai of corruption.
Bo Xilai is the disgraced former Politburo member and Party boss of the megacity of Chongqing in southwestern China.
The article stated that Bo had used his clout to allow Zhao to rack up illegitimate wealth worth over 1 billion yuan (US$160.6 million) in cities and districts of northeastern Liaoning Province (where Bo had formerly been Party Secretary), Chongqing City, and Beijing, doing business in the dining, mining, information and entertainment industries.
Zhao has been accused of being involved in an aborted coup that Bo is said to have helped mastermind. According to Party insiders, the planning of this coup by then-rising star Bo Xilai and the former domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang was the real motive for their being targeted by Party central.
According to the U.S.-based Chinese-language website DWnews’s blog on Dec. 28, Bo promised Zhao the position of Minister of Culture if the coup succeeded.
On Dec. 27 a story posted on the biggest Chinese social media forum, Tianya, went viral detailing how 20 tons of gold had been confiscated from Zhao, that he had attempted suicide unsuccessfully, and was now under the control of authorities.
A day later, on Dec. 28, an article titled, “Can Zhao Survive With the Ongoing Rampant Rumors” appeared on the Weixin account of the overseas edition of state-run People’s Daily. Weixin is a Chinese-language instant messaging service.
The article mentioned Zhao’s noticeable absences from two art conferences—one in his hometown of Liaoning and another in Beijing hosted by the Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.
It indicated that Zhao had fallen out of the mainstream in China’s cultural circles and had basically put himself inside a cage, according to the article.
While some Chinese netizens have reacted to the speculation with much sarcasm, others warn the current political climate in China is too risky.
On the social media site freeweibo.com A netizen with the moniker “Shi-Bao-Xiang-Ge” posted, “Uncle Benshan, it’s no surprise that it is your turn.”
Another netizen with the name “Luo Wenbin” said, “As long as the CCP is ruling in China, one should not get too involved in politics. The water is too deep and too dark—they are a pack of wolves.”