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Famous Pianist’s Sex Worker Scandal Triggers Cancel Culture Debate

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Renowned Chinese pianist Li Yundi was detained last week in Beijing for his part in a prostitution case. The episode has done serious damage to Li’s public image and has triggered an online discussion about cancel culture in China.

The young classical musician gained fame at just 18 after becoming the youngest winner of the International Chopin Piano Competition and the contest’s first Chinese winner.

His standing in China’s arts community has since turned upside down. A Weibo account associated with police in Beijing’s Chaoyang district posted on October 21 that Li had been detained for soliciting a prostitute.

The post quickly caught fire, with government media outlet People’s Daily describing him as being added to a list of illegal and immoral artists.

li yundi-cancel culture

Li Yundi. Image via Weibo

According to Chinese law, Li can be detained for up to 15 days and fined up to 5,000 RMB. After this legal process, Li will be considered punished and be free to go. However, it appears that Li’s career as one of China’s most famous pianists may well be over.

The China Association of Performing Arts said that it had rescinded Li’s membership in their organization, while the city of Guangzhou has stopped using Li as their official ambassador. His face was also blurred out during the latest episode of popular Chinese TV show Call Me By Fire (披荆斩棘的哥哥).

Additionally, most netizens have seemingly abandoned him, with some people engaging in dramatic gestures like throwing his picture into a trash bin.

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The rubbish bin of shame… Image via Weibo

Li is not alone in his cancelation, as China’s rabid internet culture has become notorious in recent years for abandoning prominent celebrities who’ve fallen from grace.

Just 10 days ago, Chinese singer-songwriter Song Dongye released a letter through Weibo addressing China’s growing cancel culture, saying that he wanted to “protect his right to work.”

That statement stemmed from an incident in 2016 when Song was detained for 10 days for using drugs. The musician has never been able to distance himself from that run-in with the law, and after another one of his concerts was canceled, he took to Weibo to express his frustrations and his desire to start fresh.

The post backfired, though, and Song’s Weibo account was temporarily suspended after netizens blamed him for playing the victim.

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Song Dongye. Image via Weibo

The majority of netizens showed minimal sympathy for Song’s plight, with one person commenting, “the money he spent went to drug dealers so that they could buy bullets to kill the police.” (According to Yunnan Bureau of Drug Control, 59 local police officers have died due to conflicts with drug traffickers since 1982.)

However, some are voicing their criticisms of China’s rabid cancel culture.

Journalist Liu Yuanju released an article pointing out that state policies should not be subject to swings of public opinion. “Everyone has different lives and may make different mistakes. No one in the world is a pure moral model. People all have different sides. Tolerance and kindness to others is the final solution to crimes,” wrote Liu.

Similarly, Global Times Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin penned an article supporting this position, stating that public opinion often gets out of hand. He also wrote that Li should be given a “face-saving chance.”

One netizen shared a moderate opinion, writing, “I don’t think celebrities who did something wrong should disappear, but I don’t think they can hide their misdeeds from the public either. They gain fame and money from their positive public image, and the public has the right to know if they do indeed live up to that image.”

Will we ever see Li Yundi perform again? Well, dear reader, only time will tell.

Cover image via Wikimedia

Tian Tian
    Tian Tian is a RADII staff writer based in Shanghai. She has been writing out of love for her whole life and has previously worked for GQ and Dazed. She tries her best to understand different perspectives and absolutely loves music. In fact, she is practicing to perform a piece by John Cage (not 4’33’’) while writing this bio.
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