BEIJING - China's most famous stand-up comedian, Guo Degang, has been under fire for labeling one of his apprentices a "national hero" for beating up a Beijing Television (BTV) reporter.
Guo was also criticized for calling BTV -- which broadcast many of Guo's shows and was regarded a major promoter of Guo's career -- "dirty" in the middle of a show at a theater on Sunday.
"Guo may have the advantage verbally, but he has crossed the line of civility and morality. When he shows no respect, he also loses respect from the public," a commentary in the Xinhua Daily Telegraph said Thursday.
The commentary went on to say that using the stage to vent one's personal rage is "a very improper behavior."
Similar commentaries were run in other Chinese newspapers.
According to a senior official with the BTV who required anonymity, the BTV had been "exercising restraint" over Sunday's hitting, lest Guo "take advantage of the incident to gain more fame."
Zhou Wenfu, a BTV reporter, was repeatedly punched Sunday when attempting to interview Guo's family, according to clips of the beating that have been widely circulated on the Internet and broadcast on BTV.
Zhou was trying to verify reports that Guo had illegally extended his property on to public green space.
Instead of apologizing to Zhou, Guo published a blog posting in bitter and sarcastic language early Thursday to say that Zhou deserved to be beaten up for entering his home without permission, despite footage showing Zhou's colleague had knocked at the door and identified them as BTV reporters.
The blog attracted more than 827,000 hits as of 5 pm Thursday, and triggered widespread criticism even among his fans.
An online survey conducted by the leading Chinese portal Sina.com.cn showed late Thursday that 30,647 of the 45,649 respondents, or 67.1 percent of the total, believed Guo should apologize to the reporter for the beating by his apprentice. Just over a quarter of the respondents said he should not apologize and the rest were undecided.
State broadcaster CCTV also criticized Guo in a very stern tone. Without mentioning Guo by name, a news presenter said, "Some public figure shouts abuse to support his pupil who beats up people ... How vulgar and ugly the public figure's acts are."
The apprentice, Li Guoyong, had been detained by Beijing police on Thursday for a week for assaut and battery and was fined for 200 yuan.
Li had been taken on by Guo to learn the traditional Chinese comedy performance art of "cross-talk" under the name of Li Hexiang.
According to Guo Degang, Zhou, who was slightly injured in the assault, had demanded compensation of 50,000 yuan ($7,380), but was rejected by Guo.
Guo is no stranger to public controversy. In 2007, he featured in an advertisement promoting a fake Tibetan diet tea as a health food.
In the commercial, Guo said he had lost 3 kg in weight since drinking the "miraculous Tibetan tea". His slogan "No big belly after three boxes of tea" soon became famous.
However, experts asserted the tea had nothing to do with Tibetan tea. Also, the trademark on the tea's packaging had no official approval and the "research institute" cited in promotions was a one-man company registered by the product's advertising designer.
After CCTV reported the role of Guo in promoting the tea, Guo shouted abuse at the network in some of his shows.