Splittist tendencies

Debate sparked over rising divorce rate as celebrity couple end marriage

wangfei w

Parting ways: pop diva Faye Wong is divorcing her second husband

The Singapore audience sat in stunned silence as the lights came up, signalling the concert had ended. After finishing a song, Faye Wong had simply left the stage, deciding she was done for the evening. “ ‘Thank you. Goodbye,’ is not difficult to say” commented a Singaporean blogger who attended the 2011 show. But the blogger recalls that Wong said nothing as she walked off. “We wrongly thought she’d gone for another costume change.” Instead, the audience realised that the gig was over.

Blindsiding her fans is nothing new for the Chinese pop diva. In fact, it’s been something of a Wong speciality. Some singers feed off audience applause. Not Faye. She regularly refuses to indulge in encores or waste much effort talking to fans during concerts. Or say goodbye as she departs the stage.

In the mid-1990s Wong’s manager even admitted to TIME magazine: “Faye does whatever she wants. It’s really quite a miracle that she became a success.”

But Wong – who has released 19 albums and starred in six films – has become a modern Chinese icon, coming out of self-imposed retirement to stage a comeback tour in 2010 that earned Rmb200 million ($32.66 million) in China alone.

Wong was back in the news last weekend for reasons that had nothing to do with her singing. In a reflection of her enduring celebrity, the 44 year-old provoked a wave of media interest when she announced on her weibo that she was divorcing her second husband Li Yapeng, whom she married in 2005.

“Our affinity and connection as a husband and wife in this life has come to an end,” Wong wrote enigmatically.

Her husband – who will get custody of their daughter – responded on his own weibo: “What I want is a family, but you are destined to be a legend.”

After the postings on Friday night, over 100 journalists staked out Beijing’s airport where Wong was due to arrive and then chased her car back to the city. Over the weekend, Wong’s break-up message was forwarded more than 760,000 times on weibo, making it easily the most popular topic.

Media explanation for the split were varied. Tencent Entertainment speculated that Wong had wanted her husband to become, like her, a Buddhist. Apple Daily thought the mood was a lot less spiritual and that tensions were high because Li’s failed investments had reduced Wong’s net worth (estimated at $85 million at the time of their marriage).

But as the speculation began to insinuate a lover might be involved, Wong took to her weibo yet again, this time less enigmatically. On Wednesday she denied either was having an affair, nor that money or Buddhism were factors. She said it was her decision and “we separated peacefully”.

However, as the China Daily reported, the parting of the two celebrities also sparked a broader debate about China’s rising rates of divorce. Over three million couples divorced last year, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

In a country where divorce was once almost unknown and carried a social stigma, the sudden surge in marital breakdowns has some sociologists nervous. “I am not joking that our society will disintegrate if the family dissolves. Problems within the family are the fundamental cause of many social problems. Divorce not only affects the lives, work and families of the people concerned, it also affects their children’s upbringing,” Shu Xin, head of the China Marriage and Family Counselling Centre, said on Sunday.

Li Yinhe, another sociologist, said China’s divorce rate had rocketed from around 2% in the 1970s to more than 20% today and said the country’s dramatic transformation from a rural to urban society was one of the key reasons.

An editorial in the Global Times noted that attitudinal change partly explained the phenomenon too. “Fewer young Chinese would compromise their own happiness for an unsatisfactory marriage simply to avoid losing face or embarrassing their parents,” it noted.

Li, who is a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said more infidelity was another important factor for the explosion in divorces. Financial difficulties and disagreements over parenting are cited as key factors too.

As for Wong’s fans, there were hopes that the soon-to-be single again singer might go back to the recording studio and cut her first new album since 2003.

More bizarrely, news about the break-up has piqued investor interest, as netizens wonder if the Wong divorce might pave the way for a new bull market in China’s A-shares. That’s because when Wong married her first husband in July 1996, the stock index began a steady climb from 753 to 2,245 points. When she married again in July 2005, it rose from 988 to 6,124. The thinking, reports Eastmoney, is that it might be time to get back into the market if Wong ever marries again…

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