Beijing Bans Top Comedian

A Chinese comedian is censored after a dispute with a local television station.
2010-08-09
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Guo Degang at the Third Beijing International Sports Film Festival in Beijing, July 8, 2007.
AFP

HONG KONG—Authorities in the Chinese capital have launched what appears to be an all-out ban on the work of stand-up comedian Guo Degang, with many Beijing shops pulling his tapes and books from their shelves, and his websites apparently blocked by censors.

The move came after an Aug. 1 incident in which Guo's student Li Hebiao attacked a Beijing television journalist in a dispute about permission to film at Guo's home.

Guo responded with an invective-laden blog post titled "Journalists Are Worse Than Prostitutes," in turn sparking calls among Chinese netizens for a boycott of xiangsheng, or "crosstalk," style comedy shows which feature a dialogue between two performers.

Local media said Guo's books and audio recordings have been removed from shelves at several major bookstores in the capital, although the order doesn't yet appear to have extended to Guo's hometown, Tianjin.

Beijing-based author Ling Cangzhou said there might also be deeper political motivations than the spat between Guo, Li, and Beijing TV.

"Guo Degang has ridiculed anti-corruption campaigns in the past," Ling said. "There was a period when he would mimic officials' chanting 'We must oppose corruption, oppose corruption,' and then they would go off and get themselves a mistress."

He said Guo, who frequently appears on national television and who is a household name across China, seemed to have been caught up in a recent official "anti-vulgarity" campaign after he was attacked in a commentary on the  state-run national broadcaster CCTV.

"It's hard to point to a more conservative time during the past 20 years," Ling said. "You can't satirize this, you can't satirize that."

He called Guo an "artiste" who had come up from the fringes of the entertainment scene, producing grassroots comedy for ordinary people.

"That's why he dares to speak out about social problems, and dares to laugh at them," Ling added.

Netizens abuzz

Chinese social media were abuzz with the news of Guo's apparent downfall.

"The Deyunshe [comedy club] is closed for investigation," wrote one commentator. "Finally, the anti-vulgarity campaign got to Guo Degang as well."

"Even someone who dared to speak his conscience with no fear of offending people has come to this."

Another wrote that Guo's popularity wasn't enough to protect him.

"Even if you become famous ... anyone with a bit of power can still find an excuse to mess with you," the user commented.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said he agreed with many of the sentiments being expressed online, because the actions taken against Guo have no basis in law.

"This sort of ban has a double effect," Tang said. "One is to use ideology to shut off free thinking among ordinary people, and the other is to use economic means to cut off any ability a writer or an artist might have had to make a positive impact."

But he said he believes that in the Internet age, Guo's work wouldn't necessarily disappear as a result of the ban.

"There are a lot of young artists nowadays who care about social problems," Tang said. "They can effectively broadcast themselves to people."

"These artists aren't able to make a living, but they have earned the respect of the people," he said.

On Aug. 5, a CCTV broadcast commentary titled "Public Individuals Must Assume More Social Responsibility," styled Guo's behavior as "low, vulgar, and pandering," three adjectives used to describe targets of the national anti-vulgarity campaign launched by the ruling Communist Party in mid-July.

"Between the gold and the dross in this industry, he leaves behind only dross," said the commentary, translated into English by Beijing-based media blog Danwei.org.

"Between the righteous and the outlaws, he has chosen the way of the outlaw ... How ugly is the low, vulgar, and pandering behavior of this individual!"

Original reporting by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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