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China suspends TV host for insulting Mao Zedong

China's main state broadcaster has pulled one of its anchors from the air after a video of him mocking Mao Zedong surfaced online. Bi Fujian also referenced the suffering the Chinese people faced under Mao's rule.

Bi Fujian, one of China's most famous television hosts with state-run CCTV, had his shows yanked off the air on Thursday after allegedly insulting Communist China's founder Mao Zedong. The state broadcaster said it was investigating Bi for having caused a "serious social impact."

Bi hosted, among other things, CCTV's New Year Gala, the most-watched television program in the world.

"We will seriously handle the matter in line with related regulations and based on careful investigation," a CCTV statement said without elaborating.

A video purporting to show Bi parodying a Chinese opera song to mock Mao quickly went viral on Chinese social media. Aside from direct insults, Bi also sings "we've suffered enough," a reference to the harsh conditions imposed by Mao's authoritarian rule.

Mao has become a divisive figure since his death in 1976. While the Communist Party acknowledges he made some mistakes, and while the millions of deaths from the 1958-61 Great Leap Forward are acknowledged, his image is imprinted on money and his embalmed body attracts thousands of visitors a day to Beijing.

"He must be punished"

Response to Bi's suspension, which CCTV staff said will last four days, has been similarly divided. Some users on Sina Weibo, China's answer to Twitter, condemned the lack of freedom of speech in the country and said the public should stop "hyping the story." Others were quick to condemn Bi in no uncertain terms: "He must be punished, one must not insult the founding leader, that's the bottom line," said one user.

An op-ed in the Global Times, with is associated with the Communist Party's mouthpiece the People's Daily, said that even if Bi's comments were "only for fun," they were still "quite vulgar" and disappointing.

Analysts said current President Xi Jinping has presided over one of the harshest

crackdowns on freedom of expression

in recent years, with public figures who do not follow the Party line silenced quickly. At the same time, Mao has become a potent symbol for leftists within the Communist Party who think that three decades of market-based reform have gone too far, creating pervasive corruption and an insurmountable gap between rich and poor.

es/jil (AFP, Reuters)

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