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What Happens When a CCTV Star Curses Mao Zedong?

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China Power

What Happens When a CCTV Star Curses Mao Zedong?

Is CCTV anchor Bi Fujian really in danger?

What Happens When a CCTV Star Curses Mao Zedong?
Credit: flickr/ Tauno Tohk

Last weekend, many netizens commented on my blog hoping that I would say something about Bi Fujian calling Mao Zedong a “bastard” during a dinner party. Some netizens even pressured me to comment. To quote one message:

Mr. Yang Hengjun, CCTV has circulated a notice criticizing Bi Fujian and suspended his program for four days. He will probably lose his job; it’s really dangerous. But you don’t say a word! What are you doing all day long? You’re standing still when you should act!

This sort of message annoys me. I really wanted to reply to him: “Do you really want to know what I’m doing? I retired from the government over 10 years ago and have been doing this ever since. I’m in a lot more ‘danger’ than Mr. Bi, or did you not notice?” Of course, I didn’t say that – I just sighed and moved on, as I’ve done so many times before.

Anyway, I might as well say a few words about Bi Fujian. Bi wanted to entertain friends at a banquet said some unguarded words; I can respect him for that and I almost like him already.

By the way, it’s not good to secretly film someone’s off-the-cuff remarks at a dinner and then post the video online. Any punishment of Bi based on this video will only encourage people to spill more secrets – something very bad for Chinese society, where mutual trust is already quite low.

One other point of note. Although a dinner table is normally a private place, there were more than a few foreigners sitting with Bi. For a government worker, that automatically means that dinner was not a “private party.” CCTV might rely on this point to discipline Bi, stressing the rule that government employees (people “inside the system”) can’t criticize former or current leaders. Such a rule (whether spoken or unspoken) exists in many Western countries, but it doesn’t apply to people outside the system.

So what are the “dangers” facing Bi and why do I need to speak up for him? Though Bi has been famous for a long time, I never followed his CCTV programs, except for one skit he did with Zhao Benshan. The internet video of his casual dinner conversation made me notice this CCTV celebrity for the first time. Those who are concerned about his “dangerous situation” and want to support him mainly refer to the possibility that his TV program might be suspended or that he might even be fired. And so they begin to voice support for Bi, not realizing that the louder your support, the more influential his joking comments seem, which only increases the chances that he’ll be punished.

Bi’s behavior might have violated the discipline of “the system,” but it wasn’t against the law. So the worst punishment for him would be having his program suspended, getting forced out of CCTV, or even getting fired. If anyone thinks that’s unjust, you first have to recognize the fact that working at CCTV is a great honor and opportunity for Bi. Bi wouldn’t be as famous as he is today without CCTV; didn’t a CCTV broadcaster once joke that “a dog can become famous by appearing on CCTV”?

So here’s the question: if someone can be punished or fired by CCTV because he says what’s really on his mind, is more unjust or dangerous to be fired from CCTV, or to keep working there? Some netizens appreciate Bi’s frankness and want to help him, but they want him to stay with CCTV at the same time. That’s quite a contradiction.

Bi is not young and he does not lack fame or money. As far as I’m concerned, if CCTV and the authorities fail to treat this affair correctly and insist on punishing him because of a joke told at dinner, they – not Bi – will be on the losing side. As for Bi himself, to tell the awkward truth it might actually be good for him. Look at his current programs on CCTV: if he hosts them until he grows old, how much social impact would he really have? Even if the programs were given to another host, a big monopoly like CCTV would still bring in a good ratings and a big audience. Many CCTV big shots had retired – who remembers them a few year later?

From this perspective, whether Bi will be punished or not is not a “crisis” for him, but for CCTV and the authorities. Bi is not facing a “crisis”; he is not in “danger.” He’s been in the system for a long time, and all his previous works together can’t possibly compare with the social or historical significance that he gained by revealing his true feelings at dinner. China needs truth.

What significance is there in his life-long dedication to CCTV to entertain the public and amuse the leaders? After obtaining both success and fame, why not set an example for young people, society, and even the nation: speak your true feelings. Don’t worry about right or wrong, or other people’s support or anger – just speaking the truth is right. If some “bastard” made your father and your family suffer, what’s wrong about saying that? What son would sing the praises of a person who hurt his father? Is that even human?

As for the netizens who come to provoke me, you need to escape the myth of CCTV and the psychological bondage that the system has you under. Last week, I saw a very interesting article on Consensus Media, called “Khrushchev, Father Yang and Mr. Bi.” The piece mentioned that some members of the “universal values” crowd and democracy advocates admire Bi because he spoke some unguarded words after a lifetime of restraining himself. Meanwhile, “Father Yang” (that’s me), who voluntarily retired from the government 10 years ago and has since written over 10 million words, is criticized.

So now I’m wondering – what if I stayed in the system, told lies for a few more years, deceived the public several more times, and collected more tainted money? I might not have been as famous as Mr. Bi but I would have had at least as much power. Would I have won more respect if I stayed in the system and then accidentally let slip a hidden truth at a dinner table than I’ve gotten  after writing 10 million words?

In conclusion: Bi’s joke was not that serious. If CCTV treats Bi like a major enemy, CCTV itself could be the one facing a true crisis. Meanwhile, the impact on Bi won’t be that great – and maybe our society will gain an influential, famous truth-teller.

This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.