Chinese police have detained a prominent concert pianist and reality TV personality, Li Yundi, dubbed the “piano prince”, on allegations of hiring a sex worker.
The charges were revealed by Beijing police in posts on a Chinese social media network that read more like a trailer for a TV show than an official law enforcement notice.
A first message said a 39-year-old man had been detained and a suspect placed in administrative detention, with only part of Li’s name, a standard practice to protect anonymity. A second post had a photo of a piano keyboard and the caption “one must distinguish, and draw a clear line, between black and white”.
The police also added that the initial tipoff came from members of the public in the Chinese capital’s Chaoyang district.
The official People’s Daily Newspaper confirmed that Li had been detained along with a 29-year-old woman. The official China Musicians Association also said that it was expelling him from the organisation, a sign that his domestic career may never recover.
In the meantime, several episodes of the popular reality show “Call Me By Fire”, which Li was a part of, had been removed from the Chinese internet. The decision came shortly after news of his detention began to spread across Chinese media.
Chinese authorities have intensified its crackdown on China’s cultural scene in recent months, with a raft of new regulations that some critics outside the country have dubbed a “second Cultural Revolution”, as president Xi Jinping reshapes Chinese society.
Li’s detention also fuelled discussion about what was behind the police’s move both inside and outside China. In the past, allegations of hiring sex workers have been regularly deployed by authorities to pursue political opponents and other enemies deemed by the government.
So far, however, there’s no sign that Li’s detention is politically motivated.
The news shocked China and divided opinion, with nearly 800m views of the hashtag “LiYundiDetainedForProstitution” in just two hours after the police post, Reuters reported. “My God. Li Yundi, the piano prince?” one shocked online commentator wrote.
“I’m curious to know how the public found out about him. When you see a 39-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman go into an apartment building together, how did people know that it’s a prostitute and her customer? Why not a married couple, friends, hookup buddies?” another online commentator said, according to the BBC.
The revelation of Li’s scandal has also been a subject of debate as other internet users question whether its ethical for media and the police to publicly disclose one’s identity in alleged prostitution case. “Prostitution is perfectly legal and normal in many countries. Why should it be so much of a public outcry here in China?” one wrote on WeChat.
Li was a child prodigy who studied in China and Germany and in 2000 won the International Chopin Piano competition aged just 18, the youngest ever winner.
He has toured internationally and made many recordings, though more recently after the pandemic-enforced break in music performances, he had appeared on domestic reality TV shows.