Woe on weibo

Is the public’s fascination with stars’ love lives healthy?

Ma Yili w

Controversial co-stars: Wen Zhang with Yao Di

When Chinese singer Faye Wong broke up with Li Yapeng, her husband of eight years, she took to her official Sina Weibo account to make the announcement.

The post – “Our destiny as husband and wife ends here. I’m well. You take care, too” – quickly became the most-talked about topic on the microblogging platform and was reposted over 770,000 times.

But Wong’s record was broken last week when the actor Wen Zhang posted a weibo entry pleading for his wife’s forgiveness (he’d been caught cheating on her). The post had attracted over 2.5 million comments and was reposted more than a million times within 10 hours – setting a new record for Sina Weibo.

Wen, who has an image as a sensitive family man, has been married to actress Ma Yili since 2008. The couple starred in the hit TV series Struggle (see WiC18) and have two children (their second child born just over a month ago).

But Wen’s reputation as a faithful husband was shattered when he was caught on camera enjoying a date with actress Yao Di, his co-star on another TV series Naked Marriage. That show – which was broadcast three years ago – tells the story (somewhat ironically) of a young couple trying to keep their struggling marriage alive.

“I have brought this upon myself. A mistake is a mistake. This has nothing to do with anyone else,” Wen wrote on weibo after the photos of their rendezvous were published. “Today, I am willing to accept all the consequences. I have let down Ma Yili and our children. My mistake does not deserve to be forgiven, and it will be difficult for me to make amends for all the harm I have caused. But I want to do it. I have to do it. This is what I‘ll do for the rest of my life.”

Despite his remorse, netizens were generally unimpressed: “Wen Zhang deceived all of us. He gained popularity by presenting himself as a good man and a good dad. But he has now turned out to be a hypocrite,” one netizen wrote.

“We don’t care whether you really have had an affair. We also don’t care who you love. We, too, don’t care if your wife, your daughter and even your father-in-law have all forgiven you. You are nothing to us. We don’t care about your TV series, movies and product endorsements. You have nothing to do with us,” another unforgiving fan decried.

However, much of the anger appears to be directed at Wen’s former co-star Yao, with many calling her a home-wrecker. Some blamed the actress for the affair: “If Yao Di didn’t seduce Wen Zhang, would he have derailed? And even if Wen tried to seduce her, she should know that he has a wife and a family. You know you are going to break up a family and still you pursued it. Can you blame anyone else?” one netizen thundered. Another wrote: “Those who agree that Yao Di is garbage please ‘like’ this post”. Over 15,000 users did just that.

As WiC has observed in the past, Chinese society often seems to hold women to a different set of standards to men in cases of illicit relationships.

“Does society treat men and women so differently in terms of the level of tolerance and public opinion?” a weibo user also mused.

Interest in Wen’s affair seemed to dwarf other major news stories, including a protest against a petrochemical plant in Guangdong’s Maoming city that resulted in violent clashes and arrests.

“China’s youth pays much more attention to the private lives of celebrities compared to topics such as the rule of law, corruption, environment and democracy,” writes media scholar Yang Bo. “Meanwhile, young people in Taiwan were fighting for democracy,” he added, referring to student protests on the island (see WiC231).

“While protests were reported in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Guangdong, most Chinese netizens were more excited at Wen Zhang’s extramarital affair,” Offbeat China wrote on Twitter.

Xinhua, too, is concerned about another trend. “We need to call on society for more tolerance, kindness and positive energy. We absolutely must not let this ‘paparazzi culture’ wreck havoc and become a cancer in our society,” the state news warned.

But Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, has defended netizen interest in the story. He says that internet interest in gossip about the country’s celebrities is understandable because it is one of the public discussions left largely untouched by government censorship. Social commentators are also reading too much into the response to Wen’s troubled love life, Zhan thinks. “It doesn’t mean Chinese readers don’t care about politics,” he told the South China Morning Post.

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