Chinese actor Li Yifeng held in prostitution scandal; major global brands cut ties

Several high-end brands like Prada, Sensodyne, RemyMartin and Luk Fook Jewelry severed contractual ties with the actor who had played Chairman Mao in the film The Pioneer last year

Italian luxury brand Prada said that it had ended all partnerships with Li, who was announced its official ambassador in 2021

Chinese actor Li Yifeng, who played Mao Zedong in 2021 blockbuster The Pioneer, has been detained by Beijing police and accused of soliciting prostitutes, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday. In a social media statement, the Beijing police said a 35-year-old male actor surnamed Li had been detained recently.

“The person confessed to visiting prostitutes multiple times and has been placed under administrative detention,” the statement said.

While the police statement did not identify Li by his full name, CCTV confirmed the actor had been taken into custody while giving no more details. However, according to a Weibo post from the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, the 35-year-old has admitted to the crime.

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Global brands cut ties

Following the controversy, several high-end local and international brands like Prada, Sensodyne, RemyMartin, Panerai, Luk Fook Jewelry and a dozen other brands severed contractual ties with the actor.

Italian luxury brand Prada said on Sunday evening that it had ended all partnerships with Li, who was announced its official ambassador in 2021 and is also known as Evan Li.

According to a report by China Daily, the organizing committee of the Huading Awards said it has rescinded the actor’s titles of ‘Best Actor in China’s Top 100 TV Dramas’ and ‘The National Audience’s Favorite Movie Star’.

Soliciting prostitution is illegal under Chinese law and typically leads to administrative detention of between 10 and 15 days. It could be reduced to five days or fewer if the offence is minor.

Li was originally expected to perform in CCTV’s annual Mid-Autumn Festival Gala broadcast nationwide on Saturday.

Li was previously recognized by the authorities as he played the role of Mao Zedong in “The Pioneer,” a patriotic movie released in 2021 to celebrate the China Communist Party’s 100th anniversary. He also appeared in multiple promotion videos for government agencies, including the Ministry of State Security and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

He is also the only Chinese star to receive South Korea’s Style Icon award, emulating the likes of K-pop’s G-Dragon and K-drama actor Song Joong-ki.

With over 60 million followers on the Twitter-like Weibo social media platform, Li was involved in the boycott of Hugo Boss AG over its pledge not to use cotton produced in Xinjiang over concerns it is made with forced labour by Muslim-minority Uyghurs.

Crackdown on entertainment industry

The accusations are the latest in a string of scandals, from tax evasion to alleged sexual assault, in China’s entertainment industry since the start of 2021. Some of those cases have involved vice crimes like prostitution, such as American venture capitalist and Weibo opinion-maker Charles Xue, who disappeared in 2013 and was released after state television ran a taped statement in which he admitted to hiring prostitutes.

Various industry players have been accused of “severely polluting the social atmosphere” and Beijing’s culture authority last year ordered the sector to prohibit shows by any performer who either violated the law or breached “ethical values”.

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China has ordered sweeping actions to clean up the entertainment industry, with the broadcast regulator moving to ban film stars with “incorrect” politics, cap salaries and rein in celebrity fan culture. Star pianist Li Yundi was arrested for soliciting a prostitute in October 2021 as part of the wider crackdown on the sector. He hasn’t been seen in public since.

While prostitution is prohibited in Mainland China, the sex work industry continues to thrive in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing with more than 10 million women reportedly actively engaged in the profession.