A video of a famous Chinese TV personality belting out a drunken rendition of a classic revolutionary song sprinkled with the occasional expletive and snide remark about one Mao Zedong (whom he refers to as a “son of a bitch”) has naturally gone viral online and is brewing up a shitstorm of a scandal for the celebrity host, as well as heated discussion online over the limits of free speech in the country.
Bi Fujian, who appears regularly as a host on CCTV and has served as a co-host for the Spring Festival Gala since 2011, was videotaped in a private dinner room after what we can only assume was a very boozy evening. It’s unclear who filmed the footage, which trickled into the web sphere on April 5, but thousands of netizens have since jumped on the opportunity to see a household name of China’s state-run broadcaster criticizing the country’s revered former leader.
Bi, sitting at a restaurant table with a few laughing acquaintances, is recorded singing “The Taking of Tiger Mountain“, a song from the well-known and Mao-sanctioned 1958 revolutionary opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Occasionally he would break from his mockingly patriotic performance to add his own slurred and snarky commentary. According to a Foreign Policy translation:
After the lyric “we wear a red star on our heads, a red flag on either side of us,” for example, Bi joked, “What kind of get-up is that?” In what was perhaps the most inflammatory line, Bi called Mao an expletive similar to “a son of a bitch,” one who had “really hurt [Chinese people] bitterly.”
Since the video went viral online, CCTV said it had suspended all of Bi’s shows until further notice, describing his remarks as having “a major social impact”. An employee at the station said in a Sina News report that it was uncertain whether the programs would be broadcast again after this Sunday.
An editorial from state-run newspaper China Youth Net condemned Bi’s comments and demanded that he make an apology to the public. “Mao Zedong was a great man…and the founding father of the People’s Republic…[Without Mao and the party], would Bi Fujian be able to enjoy his big dinner while criticizing the people who have fought for his happiness?” the commentary 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.”
Not all web users, however, agreed. The video has opened up debate among Mao loyalists and critics.
“For the host of a ruling party’s top media mouthpiece to curse the party’s and nation’s founder calls for more than such trivial measures as being fired,” wrote Duan Wei, a widely-followed commentator on the Chinese micro-blogging service Weibo (via FP).
Weibo user jssz201010 agreed: “How can a [high-profile personality] attack a late founding leader in this way? It’s surprising that such a psychologically deformed person works at CCTV. Does he want to revolt? ”
Web user 加V认身份不证智商 wrote: “I’d like to say something about the video. First, always pay attention to the occasion. It’s a completely private gathering. If what he said calls for criticism, this is no different than the British novel 1984. Second, pay attention to the context […] He made fun of all of the lyrics and sang carelessly. Third, be aware of who you’re criticizing. Sure, Bi is a hypocrite, but the one who posted the video online is a betrayer.”
Novelist Xia Wenyu similarly commented that the anonymous publisher of the video brings to mind Cultural Revolution-era “informants” who would sell-out even their own family members.
Qiao Mu, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, agreed that Bi’s suspension was harsh, especially considering his remarks were made privately.
“Mao is a public figure. If people can comment on Chiang Kai-shek or Sun Yat-sen, why shouldn’t they be allowed to comment on Mao?” Qiao asked.
“Without Mao it wouldn’t hurt, but without Bi, middle-aged women would find their weekends quite idle.”
Watch the video here: