Chinese TV Host Faces "Severe Punishment" for Mao Zedong Jokes

Mao Zedong H 2015
AP Images/Invision

CCTV host Bi Fujian's comments at a dinner party went viral, with the state media watchdog speaking of "a serious violation of political discipline."

China's media watchdog has called for a "severe punishment" for a star TV anchor over jokes he made at a dinner party mocking the People's Republic of China's founding father, Mao Zedong.

Bi Fujian, 56, is best known for the talent show Xingguang Dadao (Star Boulevard) that he has hosted on state broadcaster CCTV since 1989. He has also been a host on the Chinese New Year Spring Festival Gala since 2011.

His comments were filmed and posted online in April, causing a national debate, and he was suspended from his position shortly afterwards. He apologized the next day, but has not been seen in public since.

The Communist Party's official organ, the People's Daily, said the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has now ordered CCTV to punish him for "a serious violation of political discipline."

Bi made the remarks while singing parts of the opera Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, one of the eight plays allowed to be staged in China during the period of ideological frenzy known as the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Undermining the text's patriotic message, Bi sang: "Don't mention Mao  he has brought misery to us." He also said the text contained idle boasts. The footage appears to have been shot on a smartphone and posted online.

Chairman Mao, the founder of modern China, is a revered figure. However, he is also blamed for Stalinesque purges, for causing famine with the disastrous agricultural experiment known as the Great Leap Forward, in which millions died, and in orchestrating the Cultural Revolution, an experiment in ideological extremism that he kick-started nearly 50 years ago and in which many of today’s leadership suffered, including president Xi Jinping.

Even though Mao was largely responsible for the excesses of those years, the official political line in China is that his legacy is 30 percent bad, 70 percent good, and criticism of him is taboo.