China's 'Piano Prince' Li Yundi arrested for soliciting a prostitute

Li Yundi and a woman surnamed Chen admitted to the crime, after police found records of money transfers on their WeChat accounts. PHOTO: LI YUNDI/FACEBOOK

BEIJING - News of world-famous pianist Li Yundi's arrest for soliciting a prostitute has sent shockwaves through the Chinese Internet, with netizens questioning why he would do it or if he was being framed.

Beijing police first posted a statement on its microblogging Weibo account on Thursday night (Oct 21), saying they had arrested a couple in Chaoyang district for "commercial sexual activity".

Chaoyang is the biggest district in central Beijing.

Like all police statements, only the surnames and ages were given. But netizens were quick to identify Li, 39, through another cryptic post by the police uploaded just before the statement.

In it was a picture of piano keys and an ambiguous caption that read: "Not everything is in black and white in this world, but we must be clear about the distinction between the two. We must not get them wrong...".

By Friday morning, Chinese media had named Li, known as China's Piano Prince, as the one detained.

Local media reported that the police had acted on tip-offs that Li would allegedly pay for sex on a regular basis, and had arrested him at his home.

The pianist and a woman surnamed Chen, 29, admitted to the crime, after police found records of money transfers on their WeChat accounts, said the media reports.

Soliciting a prostitute and selling sex are illegal in China, and those found guilty may face up to 15 days' detention and a maximum fine of 5,000 yuan (S$1,050).

By Friday afternoon, the hashtag referring to Li's arrest on Weibo had attracted 720 million views and sparked 32,000 discussions. It was also one of the hottest trending topics on the platform.

Some were quick to question if he had made political enemies, given that the government had supposedly used accusations of prostitution previously to intimidate opponents such as Hong Kong freedom activist Simon Cheng in 2019.

Weibo user Jijixiangshang said: "I wonder why was he singled out. Maybe he offended someone higher up... I'm sure the entertainment scene is very chaotic, just look at what happened to (Kris Wu). Li Yundi cannot be the only one who solicits prostitutes."

But others insist that Li's arrest was a matter of time, given Beijing's recent clampdown on the entertainment industry.

"He may have been a child prodigy and a household name in China, but his personal life is so messy. The state must have been watching him for a while now," said user kkguazi.

Beijing has been cleaning up the Chinese entertainment scene by cracking down on disorderly fan clubs and celebrities who are perceived to be poor role models.

Chinese-Canadian celebrity Kris Wu was arrested in August on suspicion of rape. Actress Zheng Shuang was also fined 299 million yuan for tax evasion that month.

Since the news of Li's arrest broke, industry associations have also swiftly distanced themselves from him.

The China Association of Performing Arts said it had cancelled Li's membership, citing his "indifference to the law and a lack of moral self-discipline".

The association, China's largest performing arts organisation, even called for a boycott of the pianist.

The Chinese Musicians' Association also dropped Li as a member for creating "extremely negative social impact".

Born in Chongqing in south-west China, Li became the youngest pianist at the age of 18 to win the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2000, which launched his international music career.

A Yundi Art Museum opened in his home town in 2017, showcasing pianos from different stages of his career.

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