China detains ‘piano prince’ Li Yundi on suspicion of hiring prostitute amid crackdown on celebrity culture

2 months ago 19

China has detained a star pianist, Li Yundi, on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute in what state media are describing as a “warning” to celebrities that they too must avoid “breaching the bottom line or challenging the law.”

The move comes amid a widespread crackdown by China’s government on multiple sectors, including the entertainment industry and celebrity culture. Activists and critics of the government have previously accused China’s authorities of using prostitution charges to target and discredit them.

Beijing police said in a social media post Thursday that it had detained a 29-year-old woman and a 39-year-old man on suspicion of prostitution following tip offs from the public, and that both people had confessed to breaking the law.

The police did not name either person in full, but identified the man as “Li Di,” with the middle part of his name removed, as is common in police statements. Beijing police also published a cryptic post that appeared to allude to Li, showing a photo of a piano, with the words “this world is not just black and white, but we must differentiate between black and white. This absolutely cannot be mistaken.”

State media then reported that Li was the man who was arrested and quoted experts saying this could have a fatal impact on his career.

Li became a household name and celebrity in China after he won the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2000, at the age of 18 — becoming the youngest pianist, and first Chinese person, to do so. Since then, he has become known as the country’s “prince of piano,” performed around the world, including at Carnegie Hall, and appeared on variety shows on Chinese television.

On Friday, the Chinese Musicians’ Association said it had canceled Li’s membership given the “negative social impact” he had caused. In a separate statement, it urged its members to “continuously improve their personal ideology and morality” and “stick to the bottom line.”

Earlier this year, the Chinese authorities banned “American Idol”-style competitions and shows featuring men deemed too effeminate, while high-profile Chinese actress Zhao Wei has had her movies, television series and news mentions scrubbed from the Internet as if she had never existed.

Experts have described the move as part of the party’s efforts to control what is permitted in popular culture.

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