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Why is China suddenly shutting down concerts and events?

Saturday’s “What the Folkstival” outdoor concert was meant to kick off in the early afternoon in a Beijing suburb near the airport, with 10 live acts, including foreign performers, playing “acoustic music to soothe your soul.”

It never began. Near booths selling barbecue skewers and craft beer, festival-goers had begun to gather on blankets or folding chairs, enjoying the breeze and freedom from COVID-era restrictions, when police officers appeared, lights flashing, to speak with the organizers. Minutes later, a volunteer took to the stage and said the event was being postponed because of unforeseen reasons. Organizers said the police had ordered them to vacate the premises.

The incident is one of an unusual spate of sudden cancellations or shutdowns in the past week across the country that seem unrelated, spanning arts, business and equality. One explanation is a scandal in which authorities fined production company Xiaoguo about $2 million (¥275 million) and suspended its performances in two major cities “indefinitely” after comedian Li Haoshi joked about a Xi Jinping military slogan last weekend. Authorities later arrested a woman for defending the comedian’s joke.