TV host’s suspension triggers furious Maoist nostalgia debate
April 17, 2015 by Yuen Sin
Popular mainland TV host Bi Fujian has been suspended after a video of him mocking Mao Zedong at a private dinner was leaked to the public, sparking off furious debate about how the leader and the events of the Cultural Revolution should be remembered.
The footage showed Bi performing the 1958 revolutionary opera “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy” while adding sarcastic commentary about the agony suffered under Mao’s rule. At one point, he called the Chairman a “son of a bitch”. Bi later apologized to the public through his official Weibo and expressed remorse for the remarks that had made a “detrimental impact on society”.
Since Bi’s suspension, the public sphere has not hesitated to express its divided opinions.
Supporters of Bi maintained that public figures should also have freedom of speech in which the state has no right to intervene.
Weibo user @茅于轼, a renowned economist, said:
“It is normal to dislike Mao. There are also people that support Mao. This is what we called freedom of speech. There is no reason to not allow people to talk. The right thing to do is to respect each other as well as the objective truth. Personal attacks and preventing people from expressing their own views is not the atmosphere that a normal society is supposed to have”.
Others disagreed, voicing the opinion that a celebrity should watch his words especially when making comments about political leaders.
Within a few days, discussions quickly escalated into a ‘fact-checking’ debate involving different narrative of history over whether Mao is a “bad leader” between the two opposing camps.
More people worried that the informant culture, so rife during the Cultural Revolution period, has continued penetrating citizens’ social lives even decades after.
Activist lawyer @刘晓原 said on Weibo:
“It should be the fault of the whistleblower’s fault for exposing Bi’s remarks, which were supposed to only accessible to his private circle.
“I suggest that Bi resign in public and leave the ‘big pants’ (nickname of the CCTV headquarters building)”.
Split Personalities and the Communist Regime
As a CCTV star host with regular appearances on the popular talent show ”Avenues of Stars”, Bi has been perceived as a gatekeeper of China’s mainstream culture as well as a builder of the Chinese-style ‘social harmony’.
He was also the image ambassador to the “National Red Army Primary School” project, signifying his role as a beneficiary of the system constructed under the party’s rule and its revolutionary culture.
However, many contend that Bi’s behaviour typifies a split personality under the communist regime where people who openly express their loyalty to the party state often expressed disbelief or disdain privately towards the system they continuously benefit from.
As Lao Yu (老愚), columnist at the Financial Times commented:
“Maybe this is the sadness of the contemporary mind-controlling political project: although it can convince someone to pretend that they are playing by its rules, it can never conquer their inner self in reality. This is why the most unexpected comments arise from from celebrities working within the CCTV system”.
The incident later attracted more attention as the presence of two Caucasian men and one Caucasian woman at Bi’s dinner were reportedly diplomatic staff from Ukraine and U.S. embassies to Beijing.
The Spectre of Maoist Nostalgia?
Bi’s incident and the public anger it provoked reveals an unpleasant fact: the spectre of nostalgia for Maoist ideas continues to haunt Chinese society and is likely to support the informant culture that continuously challenges the under-defined notion of ‘private freedom’ in contemporary China.
Although Bi might not be condemned to a life in prison for his unexpected behavior, his glory days on television might soon be over.
By Shirley Zhang