Police in the city of Qingtongxia in the Ningxia region posted a screenshot of Li’s text exchange on Chinese social media, but later removed the post.
State-run business The Paper released further details about the incident, which has provoked consternation in China, with a related hashtag that has garnered 170 million views. Many protested Mr Li’s punishment and argued that the use of an internet joke was hardly a reason to be detained by the police.
According to The Paper, Mr Li sent a meme showing a dog in a police hat, with a police badge and pointing at the camera. It is a common image that has been used a lot online before, with various variations, sometimes including a cat or cartoon character in the police hat.
On Saturday night, local police received a tip from a member of the public claiming that Li had posted a picture that “insulted the picture of the police,” according to The Paper.
Police launched an investigation into the chat group, which had more than 330 members, according to The Paper. After finding out that Li was “dissatisfied with the preventive measures in the local community”, police called Li to the station where he was questioned and eventually “acknowledged the illegal fact of insulting the police.”
Police said his actions had constituted an offense of “picking up quarrels and provoking trouble”, giving him nine days of detention as punishment.
The newspaper praised the efforts of local authorities to curb the virus. Police are “at the forefront of epidemic prevention and control to build a security barrier to people’s lives and health,” the article said.
“However, there are some people who are dissatisfied with the epidemic prevention measures and even openly insulted the police,” the article added.
“For such illegal acts, the Qingtongxia Police Department always insists on ‘zero tolerance’ policies and punishes them resolutely according to the law in order to defend the law enforcement authority and the legal dignity of the police.”
China has some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 measures, including travel restrictions, zippers and mass testing. This is in contrast to other countries in Asia, which are learning to live with the virus after rolling out mass vaccinations.
These measures, although widely popular in China, have also given rise to rare signs of public opposition in recent weeks as the number of virus cases increases.
The most vaccinated countries on Earth
Two residents were detained in October for trying to climb over the fences in their gated community. And on social media, some residents have started complaining about the strain of being shut down for extended periods and the damage it has caused to local economies.