Li Zhi is a 41-year-old Nanjing-based folk musician. He might not be so well-known in the mainstream, but for Chinese folk music lovers or any users of arts-leaning social media site Douban, Li Zhi is a name that you’ve inevitably come across, ever since his first studio album Will This World Be Better/Has Man a Future was released in 2006.
But on April 12, Li Zhi’s fans found that all of his songs had been taken down from NetEase Music, QQ Music and other major Chinese music streaming platforms. Furthermore, Li Zhi’s Weibo account, which has over 1 million followers, along with his WeChat public account and even his Douban musician page were all seemingly banned.
So what happened to him?
These events were preceded by some other vague, slightly weird news about Li Zhi. According to The Paper’s report on April 4, the Sichuan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism recently announced that they had called off an unnamed famous singer’s planned tour of 23 concerts in Sichuan province due to his unspecified “misbehavior”; 18,000 tickets for the shows were then refunded in February.
It didn’t take much digging for fans to find that Li Zhi was taking off for 23 live performances in Sichuan on February 20. It was part of his “334 Plan” that would have seen him tour to 334 cities in 12 years and promote live music culture from 2017-2029. But two days later, Li Zhi’s team officially announced that the tour in Sichuan was canceled due to Li Zhi’s “health situation”. What was the real reason? No one seemed to know.
Li Zhi and his team taking off to Sichuan on February 20. Photo: Weibo
Li’s debut album, released in 2004, was called A Taboo Game and as he’s risen to prominence — and been signed by Baidu-backed label Taihe Music — he’s not lost his tendency to speak out. Ten years ago, Li Zhi dedicated an album entitled People Don’t Need Freedom to the year of 2009; that record cannot be found on the Chinese internet now, not surprisingly.
Li is also known as a defender of artists’ copyright. He’s previously filed lawsuits against streaming services Xiami Music and Kuwo Music, and had tussles with internet giant Tencent. In 2017, Li Zhi publicly accused the Chinese version of TV show Roast (produced by Tencent) of using his song without permission. Last year, Li filed a couple of lawsuits accusing the Tencent Video-produced talent show The Coming One and the show’s artist agent WAJIJIWA of infringement of his copyright after his music was allegedly used on the program without his approval.
There is no suggestion that such cases have anything to do with his current woes. Yet there’s also little suggestion as to what has caused the current situation.
The “Nanjing 334 Plan” WeChat account posted a new message today, but the text failed to answer fans’ questions about what’s going on or when they might be able to see Li in concert again:
“It’s been a hard time for us. We’re like children who are eating our food, and a group of strong ‘adults’ came and snatched our food, shouting that there will not be food anymore or we’ll be hit, then they’re just gone. The children are confused – we don’t know why we are not given food. Some kids were scared and left, some just continued eating.”
So far there has not been any official explanation as to what’s happened. Will Li Zhi be able to perform again or be seen in public in the future? All we can do right now seems to be to just keep our fingers crossed for him.
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