Barbie marries, but not Ken

Controversy as billionaire guest leaks photos at high society wedding

Barbie marries, but not Ken

Upset that wedding images were leaked: Barbie Hsu

When Barbie Hsu was asked if she was willing to marry restaurant tycoon heir Wang Xiaofei, the Taiwanese actress must have decided that a simple “I do” was insufficient.

Barbie’s ardour clearly runs much deeper – wedding guests heard her profess “I extremely do” in marital commitment.

Grammatically a bit off, although we get her point.

Hsu’s declaration, along with pictures of the highly publicised wedding, grabbed headlines last week.

But it seems the newly-weds were not altogether pleased with all the attention. The ceremony, which was held in Hainan, was supposed to be a private affair, and those fortunate enough to land invitations had to present their ID before being granted access to the ceremony. Most celebrity reporters returned empty-handed from Hainan due to Hsu’s media restrictions.

So imagine the newly-wed’s surprise when they discovered that pictures of Hsu walking down the aisle were appearing on weibo (China’s Twitter-equivalent) within minutes of the ceremony finishing.

As it turns out, Charles Zhang, the chief executive of Sohu, one of the country’s largest internet portals, posted a virtual ‘live broadcast’ of the event from camera-phone footage uploaded to his microblog. Anyone who wanted to watch the ceremony just had to register for Sohu’s service.

Soon the finger pointing started. Hsu and Wang (who’s from Sichuan) say they were shocked to discover the leak, accusing Zhang for failing to ask their permission before posting the material on his weibo. Wang told reporters he was particularly furious that Zhang had brought a reporter as his date so she could secretly shoot the event from their hotel room, in addition to his own coverage of the event.

“I really regret inviting Mr Zhang to my wedding,” Wang confided to the thousands of followers on his own weibo.

Zhang, meanwhile, denies he’s done anything wrong, saying simply that he wanted to record the joyous occasion for Hsu’s fans.

“It is no big deal posting (the photos) for fun. I stopped when I was told to. I don’t think I have done anything against the law or wronged my friends,” Zhang said in his statement. “I will neither admit to any wrongdoing nor apologise.”

But Taiwan’s China Times reported last week that the couple are considering taking legal action over the “infringement of their privacy and reputation”.

Are they overreacting? Maybe. But critics say there are practical reasons behind the move. The celebrity couple has been trying recently to mollify the Taiwanese press, which has been threatening a media blackout on Hsu for her perceived favouritism towards their mainland Chinese rivals. And that’s also bad news for Wang’s company, South Beauty. The restaurant chain has plans to expand into the Taiwan market very soon, says the Shanghai Daily.

It looks like Zhang is the one getting the biggest benefit, with many suspecting a publicity stunt calculated to bring attention to Sohu’s microblogging service. Although Zhang was mum on the number of new users signing up to watch the wedding broadcast, the dispute has brought a lot of attention to Sohu’s service, which has lagged behind competitors in attracting users. Market leader Sina Weibo has more than 80 million registered users. Social networking giant Tencent’s QQ microblog claims even more (at least 100 million) although industry observers say that number could be overstated. Sohu’s platform, however, has only 10 million.

In the last few months, competition between the different portals has become more intense. In February, Sina Weibo kicked off a gift-sending promotion during the Spring Festival in which users whosuccessfully invited their friends to open accounts could take part in a lucky draw for gifts. Up to 2.6 million users signed up in one week. Sohu, too, says it is planning to spend millions of dollars on a campaign in first-tier cities to boost its own subscriber base, Beijing Morning Post reported.

But Zhang’s ploy may have backfired. “This is so obvious. Charles Zhang attempted to use this whole thing to market his Sohu microblog,” says a weibo user by the name of Leah Su Yue. The irony is that most people are discussing the controversy on rival Sina’s Weibo.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.