Yundi Li’s arrest cast a chill over China

Yundi Li’s arrest cast a chill over China


norman lebrecht

October 21, 2021

A wave of shock has followed the arrest in Beijing of the 2000 Chopin Competition winner Yundi Li, on the very day that the 2021 winner was being decided. Sometimes these things are no coincidence.

In normal times, a celebrity caught in China in an embarrassing situation could expect a quick cover-up. But China has changed. It is now on a hunt for tall poppies and the unfortunate Yundi Li, a charming and charismatic musician, appears to bear the brunt of the new policy.

Presumptions of innocence should normally apply, but China does not apply them. Yundi Li has been named and shamed, culpable or clean. Media across Asia are carrying the story.

Musicians in China now feel less safe. If Yundi can be exposed for an alleged minor offence, others will have to try that much harder to stay on the right side of an authoritarian regime.

China, once the biggest potential market for western classical music, is starting to look parlous.

Yundi Li has a Hong Kong passport. We very much hope he will be allowed to resume his international career.

UPDATE: Yundi is sacked by musicians union


  • Barry Guerrero says:

    China is between a rock and hard place, trying to get what it wants with its bellicose stance towards HK and Taiwan. They can no more afford the destruction of a world war than anybody else. From an economic standpoint, even less so (exports). Clamping down on people at the individual level is, under the circumstances, quite predictable. Making an example of famous figures has always been a tactic of those in power, since day one of this planet.

    • V. Lind says:

      We are noticing this because it is Yundi Li. But there is nothing new in China arresting and jailing very celebrated writers, artists (anybody remember Ai Wei Wei?), editors, publishers — including those from Hong Kong.

      • Denise says:

        Communism over Capitalism…so said the imprisioned liberal!!!

        Feckless American Democrats are well behind the curve on what they covet until they realize their poverty. No money for school, rent, food and still no employment prospects under Biden-Harris-Pelosi-Schumer as they jet about in armed luxury.

        The left remains oppressed under Biden while worshipping Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc without having the stones to renounce their citizenships and move there. The cowardly collective left living like greedy children who need both parents to support them and meds to control them; what else is new??

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Not very much different from our modern cancel culture, actually. Both products of authoritarianism.

      • Nick says:

        I wonder, who are the (45) idiots who do not understand that China’s regime is CRIMINAL in its core?!? And that the USA follows in Chinese footsteps every day, every hour, every minute and second now!! We are “building the rosy future — communism” under WEF and globalists with China as a Head State and Government! And nobody hides that anymore.

    • Roman says:

      I don’t think you’re right about Chinese thinking about economy. At some point totalitarian societies stops caring about their own economies. Look at the example of Russia, where Putin dumps the economy of the whole country just to keep absolute power and feed his militaristic ambitions.

      • Nick says:

        China is NOT Russia and Xi is NOT Putin!!
        You comparing apples and organges!

        • Mark says:

          That’s like claiming there are only TWO sexes!!

          • Lgbtqabcdefgjusthowmessedupcanyoube? says:

            There ARE only two sexes.
            Everything else is abnormal.
            7+ billion people on the Planet. Less than 2% do not identify as male or female. These culture wars are nonsensical and the louder they yell, the more ridiculous they sound. ‘We are lgbtq+, bbaipoc!’
            Yeah? Well, I am a white, heterosexual man and I couldn’t care less about your ‘struggle’.

  • poyu says:

    Strange article with many wrong assumptions.

    Hiring a prostitute is not a criminal offense in China, but it is a minor offense that can be fined and arrested by police for short period of time. There is no criminal court involved if the person admitted the offense, so I am not sure “innocent until proven guilty” applies here. The case is basically closed for him unless he wants to appeal.
    It is a “moral” offense, yes, just like Hugh Grant was charged for hiring prostitute and had sex in “public”. There are many countries still has this kind of moral offense law, including UK and US.
    Second, Mr Li never said anything against PRC government. The reason this turned into a big news is that he was now a pop figure there, and the current Chinese policy is “zero tolerance for immoral performers”. You can surely disagree with that policy, but if he only plays piano concert, not goes on some tacky TV reality shows (which pays much more and requires much less hard practice), I doubt many people will notice that his public appearances were barred.
    He was set as an example, of course. But it’s not like he can even more comply with PRC policies there. His career in China is most possibly ended, but he could still go aboard if he wishes to be a true concert pianist.
    Finally, having HK passport makes no difference; if you went there and calls a prostitute, you can end up being arrested and fined, and lost your TV star job in China, if you are one!

    • Music Lover says:

      The whole western world needs to set China straight. China is really out of order, and it’s sickening how the West seems afraid to stand up. What is immoral is for China to be so brazen,as to pretend that this accomplished musician has done anything wrong. It really is “cancel culture” gone mad. This young, talented classical pianist should be given the highest accolades, and envouragement. “Innocent until proven guilty “, or ” preumption of innocence ” is the Cornerstone on which advanced, civilized society is based.

      Not in China, it seems. We need to grow a spine.

      • Nick says:

        You are absolutely right. We should not get CCP get away with anything from spreading knowingly The disease around the world to missteps (if any) of Yundi Li and the like!!
        The world has to show the will to put CCP in its place!! As you said “WE need to grow A SPINE” And it should be stronger than the Great Chinese Wall!

        • John Borstlap says:

          My fly on the wall told me that Mr Li merely wanted to play Mozart’s Turkish march for a female fan who happened to wear a rather shortish skirt. But badly working cameras transferred a different story and so it ended rather unpleasantly.

  • Eric Farber says:

    What a biased article. Celebrities are arrested for crimes such as these all time time, yet you presume he is facing political persecution because it occurred in China? He has never been at odds with the government. Do you presume the same for celebrities arrested on similar charges in America, the country whose judicial system produced the McCarthy era and the prison-industrial complex?

    I, for one, am glad he was caught. Hopefully this will serve as a warning to other public figures not to partake in the trafficking of women.

    • Roman says:

      Chances that the Chopin Competition winner get randomly arrested exactly at the day of announcing the winners of the same Competition are very low. It seems like there is a political motivation behind this. Maybe it is an attempt to smear Western classical music competitions (look what those winners are doing), maybe it is a signal to Chinese musicians that being stars in the West is not welcome anymore, maybe it is something entirely different. But I don’t believe it can be a coincidence.

      • Nick says:

        We all know : it is a WAR!! We live in a war time and we have to behave appropriately, like people behave in war times. We must defend ourselves.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Everybody knows what all Chopin winners do immediately after the day of the announcement: [redacted]

    • Nick says:

      In America all celebrities do for years and years is EXACTLY THAT and only a small % of these people are ever caught/prosecuted . And mostly if they are on the wrong political side. Li is not a “women trafficker”, but You, Eric. are a conspiracy theorist.

  • 5cents says:

    He was detained for prostitution, which is illegal in China. I don’t see the problem. Oh, funny, you hid the prostitution part.

    • Lee Tang says:

      Why there is no time, date, place on the announcement by Beijing Police? Other similar crime shows clearly these items.

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    That’s unfortunate, but while China’s government makes an example of him it should be noted the public in China are not nearly as upset by these situations as in the West, particularly of course, the prudes of the US. His career might even get a boost, or a new fan base.

    I lived for decades in East Asia working in my previous firm. Americans gasped and shrieked just walking down some streets with hawkers selling adult items and such, morning/noon/night. Hardly any locals cared

  • John kelly says:

    President Xi’s regression to authoritarian communism is deeply regretttable. It won’t end well.

    • OperaFan in CA says:

      There is nothing political here and I don’t know why people like you naturally think that everything happening in China is related to political authoritarianism. Jus try to be fair and learn to know China more before you merely watch the propaganda here.

    • Nick says:

      …”regression to authoritarian communism”??? And who do you think Xi was when he started?!? He was the same Communist Dictator, worse than Mao himself. You are just confused the his always black hair after 30 years.

      • John Kelly says:

        I am not confused.. There is a change, it didn’t begin with the semi house arrest of Jack Ma but that was a clear signal……”Capitalism with Chinese characteristics” (Xi”s phrase and hardly one that would ever come from Mao) has become “old style communist repression” which would be very familiar to the likes of Mao,…..

  • Shane says:

    A shaming website shaming a shaming website?

  • Cyosio says:

    What international career? He’s no longer the pianist he once was 20 years ago. He plays everything like a train-wreak, he’s resorted to being a k-pop dancer and singer, for real.

  • Fred Nash says:

    allegations was for prostitution?

  • Winnie the Pooh says:

    Given the state of the Chinese Communist Party these days, to be an artist in China is a form of prostitution itself. Anyone who veers off the politically correct course (Tibet, Taiwan etc.) would be hounded by government-paid trolls, Internet mobs (who by the way cannot access Twitter or Facebook). The best artists in China with any shred of conscience or morality are either driven to exile like Ai Wei Wei or framed for some imaginary crimes. Prostitution was the same charge the fascist CCP leveled against a HK worker at the British Consulate when he traveled to China a few years ago. If they arrest everyone for soliciting prostitution, then half of the male members of the CCP would be in prison.

  • leo grinhauz says:

    By you, this dude is some kinda hero, but to a Chinese person, he’s just some poor schmuck trying to get laid. I seriously doubt this lil’ thing brought about nil chill. Gee, you’re as square as a block.

  • M Zhang says:

    Norman L, you should be ashamed yourself for the bias of linking a renowned pianist to geographical politics.

    As a Chinese citizen myself, let me assure you that I’m not a fan of the CCP or Chinese government at all. And again, as a Chinese citizen who lived in the US for the past 10 years, and as a fan of classical music, let me chip in to make it clear.

    I don’t know where you are from, but in China and US, soliciting prostitution is out of the law. “illegal” “misdemeanour” or whatever the legal term is, you face penalties in both countries. In China, you may be detained for up to 15 days and pay some fine like $800 or so (¥5000), in US it varies by state but at least in Cali, First offense: up to 6 months and jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Second offense: mandatory 45 days in jail. Third offense: mandatory 90 days in jail.

    Did Yundi solicit prostitution? Yes he did and he admitted.

    Was the police right about his detaining? I don’t see why not. He broke the law, he took the consequence, simple as that.

    Now here’s the key question regarding your article, was the police force or the government targeting him? It’s highly unlikely because he’s not a political figure, he didn’t advocate anything anti-ccp or anti-China, and it’s hard to believe that he’s the scape goat of someone else or some else’ criminal activity. So the entire of your article is biased and, no offense/nothing personal, a farce.

    Like many of you, I don’t like Yundi being publicly shamed like this. I don’t think he deserves that. I enjoyed his early performances, many of them, the Chopin work, his Prokofiev piano concerto#2, etc. But that’s just the price for being a celebrity.

    What I don’t understand is, hundreds of thousands of people solicit prostitution every day in every city in China (and everywhere in the world). How the fuck that he got caught???

    • AJ says:

      He was caught because the wealthy neighborhood watch there is famous for being righteous to Xi’s politics of maintaining community safety. They reported the house to the police and Li was arrested.

  • I hope you have noticed that this news was released at exactly the same time as this year’s Chopin competition winners in Warsaw have been announced. I also hope you’re not so naïve as to believe this to be a coincidence!

  • Michael P McGrath says:

    “Casts a chill?” I’d say it adds to the already arctic climate in the PRC caused by the dictator who is snuffing out thinking, motivation, life and hope in that now-dangerous country.