Chinese media: Famed pianist is arrested on morals charge

Chinese media: Famed pianist is arrested on morals charge


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2021

Chinese and Hong Kong media are reporting that the renowned international pianist, winner of the 2000 Chopin Competition Yundi Li, has been arrested in Beijng in connection with a prostitution offence.

The police have only published only one of the two Chinese characters of Yundi’s name, but they posted a picture of a piano on the social media site Weibo and the rest of his name was leaked to state media. We are trying to obtain independent verification.

Yundi is an outstanding international artist with a huge fan base in China, second only to Lang Lang.

Long tied to Deutsche Grammophon, he moved to Warner two years ago and has not been seen outside China since the Covid outbreak.

He recently appeared on a reality TV show Call Me by Fire.

The English-language Hong Kong Standard reports:

Chaoyang district of Beijing police announced on Thursday night the arrest on its official Weibo account, saying a report had been made to them that a 39-year-old man allegedly hired a prostitute in the district.

Following investigations, police arrested Li and a 29-year-old woman. Police claimed the two have admitted to their offence and were detained.

In the 9pm announcement, police did not fully named the pianist, but only his surname Li and last name di. However, sources confirmed it was the world-renowned pianist who got arrested. The official Weibo account of Beijing police uploaded a photo of the keyboard of a piano onto Weibo and wrote: ‘There are not just black and white in this world, but one must draw clear line between black and white. This cannot be mistaken.’

The offence could carry a jail term of 14 days.

We are awaiting further information.

The issue may have a political cause. Chinese media, under tight state control, are engaged in an official shaming campaign against prominent individuals.

UPDATE: Another bulletin from Chinese state media:


  • bwmto says:

    Say what you want about ‘Chinese Media Compaign’. But it is widely known in among Chinese classical lovers(and perhaps internationally, judging by the lack of international concerts since 2017) that Yundi’s standard has dropped significantly since 2013. No one takes him seriously anymore among piano/classical music lovers.

    To say Yundi has ‘a huge fan base second to lang lang in China; is such a ridiculous statement, I really expected more from you Norman.

    Btw, the reality TV show you mentioned in the article, is literally a TV show for washed-up pop stars to regain their fame. Think what kind of ‘prominent pianist’ would join such a show.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      That’s an awful thing to harp on under the circumstances. I’ve seen people stoop to some low levels on this site, but this one is right up there. It’s like saying none of his previous achievements amount to anything. What you’ve displayed is precisely why I couldn’t give a hoot about the opinions of “piano/classical music lovers”.

      • bwmto says:

        No I am not diminishing his past achievement. Actually he was one of the first few pianists that got me hooked on classical music back in the day. I loved his Chopin competition performance.

        What I am saying is against the description of him being an ‘outsanding international pianist with large fan base’ which is not true anymore.

        Just have a look at this performance

        • Barry Guerrero says:

          Wish I could play that poorly. Yes, it’s not the best by any stretch. We also don’t know the circumstances pertaining to whatever this event was. But in addition to any of that, how can we tell much of anything with such awful sound quality: overly bright and overly resonant at the same time (‘boomy’)? I’m making excuses, but the sound doesn’t help.

        • Fliszt says:

          Ridiculous performance – there’s no excuse for it.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        The poor man has everything to fear being arrested in China. Most people simply disappear in that when they’re of no further use to the State, but one person on here thinks his level of playing is what is really important!!!!

    • Nick S says:

      Just one correction, he is no good since 2008. After his best recording the Prokofiev 2nd piano concerto. After that …..

    • BP says:

      Thanks for focusing on the real issue : your appraisal of Yundi’s career. For Pete’s sake.

    • mahlernow says:

      How many prominent pianists are there in China to begin with? Even Yuja Wang and Sa Chen are not prominent among many a self-claimed classical music aficionado. How do you define a fan base? It is always in the popular sense.

    • David A says:

      Ok we heard you. Do you feel better? 🙂 You have your opinion, you don’t need to declare them loudly and argue with others when the article has nothing to do with it. For the record, everyone has memory slips, even Martha. You clearly are not a performer whatsoever.

  • Jack says:

    Such a shame. Like Lang Lang and Yuja, he should have moved to the west when he had a chance.

    • Colin says:

      With different practices between countries in the West, and particularly between states and cities in the USA, Mr Li’s alleged offence of solicitation may still be prosecuted there.

      The trend seems to be for reduced
      sentences for those solicitated, with increases for the solicitors.

      Overall there seems to be a slow movement towards decriminalisation.

    • Nick S says:

      He studied at Hanover after winning the Chopin competition. But, he never has the inner motivation to be better. He used to be a good student, a good emulator, which won him the top prize. But, as a concert pianist, that’s not enough. When one’s not ready and engagement start to increase, it’s not a fun playing in one city one day and wake up the other. So, he was never built a la Lang Lang or Yuja. Worst of all, he does not have the range of repertoire to sustain years’ of concertizing career. Back home to China where easy money pouring for hometown hero is a no brainer for him. Staying in the west? He’s been allegedly kicked out of school in 08, where else will he go? Japan?

    • Jerome W says:

      Jack, I agree that he should have left China. I think that he could have gotten British citizenship. Living in London or Manchester he would have no problem meeting a girlfriend or boyfriend. This somehow smells of a setup. A very PRC kind of setup. Free Yundi !!

  • Jobim75 says:

    How he could win the Chopin contest remains a mystery. About that arrest, not my business.

    • Jerome W says:

      I have watched the video’s of Yundi’s playing i Warsaw. It was brilliant. He earned the first prize. For us musicians there was never a mystery.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    “second only to Lang Lang [in China]”

    where are these metrics from? To forget Yuja Wang, a bit of a surprise

  • Steven Holloway says:

    Whenever an issue re the Chinese Government and its measures arises, Beijing calls out citizens who live in the West — but who have family who do not. This current business is a quite minor manner, but when it was a matter of the Chinese policies re Tibet, it seemed as if the entire Chinese population of Canada was out in force defending. Indeed, it is now known that Chinese Canadians holding public office have been controlled by Beijing. And so, there are so far at least two comments on here that I think should be read with great scepticism.

  • Been Here Before says:

    I don’t understand why such a good looking and successful chap would need to hire an escort. I thought he had a lot of attractive fans who would be more than happy to keep him company.

    And at least, it was a girl. I always thought he was gay.

    • Władziu says:

      Yes, he is gay. If getting arrested for soliciting prostitution to prove that he is not, then it’s a brilliant career move. Such is the sad state of conformism in China where gays and free speech are not allowed and Lang Lang has to marry and procreate to prove his manliness to sell more perfumes.

    • BigSir says:

      When the actor Hugh Grant was arrested for hiring a prostitute, he was asked why a good looking young actor had to pay for sex. He answered, I don’t pay for sex, I pay not to spend the night with them.

    • Minutewaltz says:

      That’s exactly what I thought.
      We saw him play in London and half the audience were adoring young female fans.
      A star like him could take their pick.

  • BigSir says:

    Morals charge? Whose morals? Prostitution should be legal.

  • Zandonai says:

    To be honest I’ve long stopped being amazed by the winners of Chopin Competition including this year’s and the last winner Seong-Jin Cho (big yawn). Yuja and Lang Lang never won any competition.
    As for Yundi, they should take his medal back.