China’s most recent crackdown on celebrities has made the headlines once again as prominent pianist Li Yundi was arrested on the charges of “soliciting a prostitute” (BBC News, 2021).
As prostitution still remains illegal in China, the 39 – year-old unnamed person – who was later confirmed as Li, and a 29 – year-old sex worker confessed that they took part in the illegal activity.
The arrest was made after the authorities received a “tip-off from the public” (BBC News, 2021).
The news came as a shock to the Chinese population as Li is one of the most celebrated pianists in all of China, often referred to as the “piano prince”.
At the mere age of 18, Li turned out as the youngest pianist, and the first musician in China to win a first prize at the renowned International Chopin Piano Competition in the year 2000.
His music has bought him global recognition and he has played all over the world. In the Chinese speaking world, Li is a household name, which only points to the shockwave that it must have sent across the nation.
The police initially had not revealed the names of the individuals who were arrested, only the surnames. But netizens were quick to understand that the arrest made was Li’s, after a second cryptic post was uploaded by the police.
The police uploaded a picture showing piano keys with a rather ambiguous message as its caption, reading: “Not everything is in black and white in this world, but we must be clear about the distinction between the two. We must not get them wrong…” (Wei, 2021).
The police soon revealed to the media that indeed the “piano prince” was the primary detainee.
Li’s arrest divided the netizens into two clans, and there were mixed reactions concerning the detention. While some felt that their idol had let them down, the others started to view the episode as just the tip of an iceberg of an impending political intervention in the Chinese entertainment industry.
“Oh my god, I can’t believe it. Is this really the same Li Yundi that we admire so much?”, one person wrote on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter (BBC News, 2021).
While a few others were skeptic as to how the arrest was made with just a random tip-off
“I’m curious to know how the public found out about him. When you see a 39-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman go into an apartment building together, how did people know that it’s a prostitute and her customer? Why not a married couple, friends, hookup buddies?”, a Weibo comment read (BBC News, 2021).
Some Weibo users also expressed their concern as they thought that Li Yundi must have done something to offend the higher ups in the government, and why should he alone be singled out when there were many other cases of prostitution even within the entertainment industry (Wei, 2021).
Conjectures aside, so far there are no evidences that point towards Li’s arrest being sparked by political motives, rather it follows the trajectory of China showing zero – tolerance towards rule – breakers.
Beijing has been tidying up the Chinese entertainment industry by taking action against messy fan clubs and famous personalities who are deemed to be good for nothing, or the ones who set poor examples to the general public.
Earlier this year, Chinese-Canadian superstar Kris Wu was arrested in August on the suspicions of committing rape. Entertainer Zheng Shuang was likewise fined 299 million yuan for tax evasion in the same month.
As the information about Li’s arrest spread across the music industry, they quickly distanced themselves from showing any solidarity to the star-pianist.
The China Association of Performing Arts said it had cancelled Li’s membership, citing his “indifference to the law and a lack of moral self-discipline” (Wei, 2021).
The association even called for the boycott of Li provided his conduct in the public sphere, which they see as immoral.
However, not everyone is against the idea of prostitution even within China, one WeChat user commented that like many other countries in the world China should also legalize sex – work (Graham-Harrison & Ni, 2021).
Li Yundi’s arrest has sparked many such debates over the online platforms in China. However, given the position of the authorities in his case, Li’s domestic career is as good as ruined post his name being blacklisted.
The answer to the questions that whether or not the government is interfering in the private affairs of the Chinese celebrities, particularly, and if Li’s arrest points towards some other ulterior motive of the higher officials, is yet to be seen.