China slapped one of the country’s best-known comedy troupes with a 14.7 million yuan ($2.13 million) fine on Wednesday, accusing it of «harming society» after a military prank by one of his comedians will generate strong public criticism.

The Beijing arm of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism Office said it would fine Shanghai Xiaoguo Culture Media Co 13.35 million yuan and confiscate 1.35 million yuan in «illegal profits» from the company after discovering that a recent show by Li Haoshi, who performs under the direction of House, had violated the rules.

The incident has sharply divided the Chinese public over what kinds of jokes are inappropriate as performances like stand-up comedy become increasingly popular and also highlighted the limits of appropriate content in China, where authorities say you should promote fundamental socialist values.

Li went viral on Chinese social media earlier this week after an audience member posted online a description of a joke he had pulled in a live stand-up in Beijing on May 13, describing it as demeaning. for the People’s Liberation Army of China (PLA).

In the joke, Li recounted seeing two adopted stray dogs chasing a squirrel, saying it reminded him of the phrase «have a good work style, be able to fight and win battles,» a catchphrase used by the president. Chinese Xi Jinping in 2013 to praise the PLA’s work ethic.

“We will never allow any company or individual to use the Chinese capital as a stage to wantonly slander the glorious image of the PLA,” the cultural bureau said, adding that Xiaoguo Culture would be barred from holding future shows in Beijing.

Responding to the fine, Xiaoguo Culture blamed the incident on «big gaps in management» and said it had terminated Li’s contract.

Reuters could not immediately reach Li for comment and Weibo appears to have banned him from posting to his account there.

Founded in Shanghai in 2015, Xiaoguo Culture’s popularity has grown in tandem with the acceptance of stand-up comedy in China and is known for raising the profile of hundreds of local comedians.

The firm and its artists have been in trouble with authorities before. In July 2021, the company was fined 200,000 yuan for running ads that featured a comedian endorsing a lingerie brand with comments that allegedly objectified women.