Nearly four decades after Mao Zedong’s death, it’s still a grievous sin for Communist Party members to make fun of the Great Helmsman.
Popular China Central Television (CCTV) presenter Bi Fujian was suspended in April by the state-run broadcaster and investigated by the authorities after a 76-second video clip of him singing a revolutionary opera and inserting snide remarks between bars about the Party and Mao at a private dinner party leaked onto the Internet.
“The Communist Party! Chairman Mao!” Bi had sang. “What harm that old [expletive] Mao has brought to us!” he continued, to an outburst of laughter from the table. After he was criticized, Bi issued a statement of apology on social media.
The just-released August issue of the Chinese Communist Party’s anti-corruption agency newspaper carries a report which hints at Bi’s fate—the act of “ridiculing and damaging” the image of Party elders has been deemed “not a general discipline problem, but a serious violation of political discipline.”
“CCTV must severely deal with the matter according to the relevant regulations, and let this serve as a warning to its staff,” the China Discipline and Inspection News report continued.
This doesn’t bode well for Bi, 56, who prior to his suspension was one of China’s most prominent hosts, heading “Avenue of Stars,” a talent show similar to “American Idol,” as well as several Lunar New Year gala programs, which is watched by millions of Chinese on the mainland and abroad.
The charge of “serious violation of discipline” has been leveled against the many Party officials in Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. All have been purged and imprisoned following investigations.
Bi has reportedly quit his job, according to respected Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao. Duowei News, an overseas Chinese news outlet reported that Zhu Jun, another CCTV presenter, has replaced Bi as host of “Avenue of Stars.” Duowei News added: “To eliminate Bi Fujian’s ‘negative influence,’ ‘Avenue of Stars’ even called contestants back to reshoot shows that featured Bi as the host.”
Chinese netizens were divided over Bi’s behavior in the video clip—he was either a “normal person” who didn’t repeat the Party’s propaganda in private, or a complete traitor to Party—and remained so following the latest news.
“Those who don’t respect history and great people don’t deserve sympathy,” read a top comment on the new state-funded online news website Peng Pai.
“In the era of reform and opening, to restrict speech is to kill the heart of freedom,” read another highly rated comment. Reform and opening refers to the Communist Party’s policy of economic liberalization that followed in 1978, a year after Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, a tumultuous and bloody decade of Chinese history.
Several analysts of China’s elite politics have likened the disciplining of Bi Fujian for poking fun at Mao to a Cultural Revolution-style persecution. During that era, people were sent to years of forced labor for speaking ill of Mao; others were beaten to within an inch of their lives by crazed Red Guards for minor political infractions.
On an April 11 program on New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD), a New York based Chinese language broadcaster, political commentator Chen Pokong said that the Bi incident—given that his private joke was recorded and put on the Internet—shows that Chinese people have yet to move away from acting as informants for the regime.
Chen also felt that it was hypocritical of the Party to discipline Bi for making a disparaging comment about Mao, given its tradition of discrediting and defaming its own leaders, such as Zhao Ziyang, the former Party general secretary who sympathized with pro-democracy student activists at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and Chen Duxiu, one of the Party’s co-founders.
Bi was actually pulling punches, Chen averred, since Mao Zedong was a “brutal and paranoid dictator” on par with “butchers like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Pol Pot.”
Chen continued: “To be frank, people are saying that Bi barely cursed Mao at all.”