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The Yale School of Music on Sunday released a statement denying the rumor circulating on Chinese social media that Chinese pianist Yundi Li was offered a tenured professor role after being detained for hiring a sex worker.

On Oct. 22, Beijing police announced on Chinese social media platform Weibo that celebrated Chinese pianist Yundi Li, known as the “Piano Prince,” was detained after confessing to soliciting a prostitute. Seven days later, rumors circulated on Chinese social media alleging that Li was offered a tenured professorship by the School of Music. On Oct. 31, School of Music Dean Robert Blocker released a statement denying the claim.

“Many people in the Yale School of Music and beyond have asked my office about an assertion being widely circulated in Chinese social media that pianist Yundi Li has been offered a position on YSM’s faculty. No such faculty appointment has been made,” the statement read. 

After the news of Li’s detainment broke, many expressed shock and criticism on the internet, Companies terminated Li’s brand spokesperson contracts and the Chinese Musicians’ Association revoked his membership because of his “extremely negative social impact.”

Li did not make a statement on social media following the incident. 

One week after the announcement of Li’s detainment, a screenshot of an anonymous post from WeChat Friend Zone appeared on social media and soon went viral. The anonymous source in this post claimed that Li’s mother announced the following: 

“My son will forever quit China’s music scene, and China’s music scene will no longer exist [to] the world-famous Piano Prince Li Yundi. The formidable opinions of the public, as well as their moral judgement has sent my son into a living hell. I believe that he will leave his once-beloved home country to seek a means of survival in a foreign country soon.” 

At the end of this post, the anonymous source claimed the statement was reprinted from an article titled, in Chinese, “Yale School of Music invited Yundi Li to be tenured professor.” The post did not provide a link to the purported article.

Over the next three days, celebrities on Weibo, many of whom have more than 100,000 followers, reposted the screenshot and affirmed Li’s appointment to the Yale School of Music faculty. At the time of publication, there were around 13.1 million results for “Yundi Li, Yale” on Google and 19.5 million on Baidu, the largest search engine in China.

Since Oct. 29, a number of Chinese students at Yale reported being contacted by their friends and family in China to confirm the accuracy of this information. All said they were not aware of such decisions. The News granted the students anonymity over fears their personal information would be published online and they would face retaliation.

“We are all very busy and don’t really care about this rumor,” a student said. “It has nothing to do with us. It is just boring gossip and a common rumor flying around on Chinese social media because Li is kind of a celebrity.” The other two students echoed the sentiment.

School of Music Communications Officer David Brensilver did not provide comment beyond the Dean’s statement.

While most “key opinion leaders” — influential social media celebrities on Chinese social media — reprinted the dean’s public response and clarified that Li was not appointed to Music School faculty, some remained steadfast that Li was originally offered the tenured professor position, but the invitation was revoked after his scandal.

At the age of 18, Li was the youngest person to win the first prize at the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition in 2020.

HANNAH QU
Hannah Qu covers Cops and Courts. Originally from Jinan, China, she is a first year in Trumbull College.