Wedded bliss? Not on weibo

Divorce battle hots up, as celebrity couple trade accusations on the web

Wedded bliss? Not on weibo

Warring with her husband via Sina Weibo: actress Dong Jie

Sina Weibo is now used and adored by hundreds of millions of Chinese. The country’s Twitter-equivalent has become a must-read platform for those wanting to find out what is really going on around the country. For example, it was through eye witness accounts posted on weibo that news of the Wenzhou high-speed train crash spread last year. State media was told not to cover the story, so without weibo, it would have died alongside so many of the train’s passengers.

But weibo is also being used for less weighty matters, and in ways that many WiC readers might recognise from some of their own countries.

For example, this week a high-profile couple have been fighting a bitter divorce battle through inflammatory postings on the messaging service.

The fight went viral after publicists for actress Dong Jie used weibo to accuse her now estranged husband Pan Yueming of having a gambling problem and a foul temper. The depth of bad feeling took many by surprise, as Dong and Pan have long been viewed as one of China’s most devoted celebrity couples. The two met on a film set in 2005 and were married three years later. Since then they’ve been media favourites, usually appearing in photos looking rather enamoured with one other. When Pan was badly injured in a car accident, the actress even took over the role of breadwinner from her husband. “In the past we were in love but now we are even more in love,” Dong gushed shortly after the crash.

But the days of love and affection are now a thing of the past. In September Dong announced her divorce from Pan on her Sina Weibo account. And since then, the former partners have been hurling increasingly lurid accusations at each other online.

According to Sina Entertainment, the mudslinging started when a netizen claimed to have insider information that the reason for the divorce was that wife Dong had cheated on husband Pan. That prompted Dong’s PR team to post a microblog defending the actress, alleging instead that Pan has a gambling problem and had got heavily in debt. Pan is now threatening to take legal action against his former wife for defamation.

In the brave new world of weibo, the romantic couplings of China’s rich and famous are now being tracked by a large, curious audience. What would be tabloid fare in many Western countries is instead being provided on the Sina service – and for celebrities who might prefer to keep their relationships under wraps, this can be something of a rude awakening.

Last week news about another celebrity also took weibo by storm. It helped that the man in question was Wang Shi, the 60 year-old chairman of Vanke, China’s largest real estate developer. But probably an even bigger draw was news that Wang’s alleged new girlfriend is a pretty, 31 year-old actress called Tian Pujun.

Though less well known outside China, Wang is a high-profile figure at home where he is known as one of the country’s “property godfathers”. Famously, Wang declared that his company has never paid a single bribe in pursuing its business activities, a claim so rarely made in public that it earned him widespread attention (an indicator, in turn, of just how prevalent graft is in Chinese business circles).

Media reports say the unlikely pair first met at a graduate school where they were both studying for an executive MBA, leading some newspapers to quip that business schools – and particularly their executive programmes – have become the new “hunting ground” for young women looking for wealthy husbands.

“Going to business school is more effective than going on If You Are The One [a popular dating show],” Hong Kong’s Apple Daily chortled.

“Thanks to Wang Shi, the business school can start charging more for tuition,” one netizen wrote.

News of the Wang-Tian affair first unfolded on weibo, after a reporter from Caijing magazine posted a comment saying that sources had confirmed that Wang had divorced his wife. The next day, a picture surfaced on the same microblog showing Wang and Tian sitting next to each other on an airline flight. By now, the weibo world was in sufficient frenzy for even the traditional media to take note. “No hero can resist the beauty of a woman,” the Shanghai Daily nodded sagely, citing an old proverb. Still, all the publicity may be no bad thing, it thought. In the week since the news first broke, Vanke’s stock is up 5%. “The love affairs of China’s business tycoons are not only making headlines but affecting stock markets,” the newspaper surmised.

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