Cannon fodder

Another Chinese star is disgraced by a sex scandal


Li Yifeng: another fallen star

Li Yifeng and Kris Wu co-starred in the 2015 blockbuster Mr. Six. With a catchy title Lao Pao’er, which translates as ‘old cannon’, the gangster movie propelled the duo towards superstardom. The film even won Li Best Supporting Actor at the state-run Hundred Flowers Awards.

Both men have since fallen from grace. In July last year Wu was accused by a 19 year-old of getting her drunk at a party and raping her. In her allegations, she said he had done something similar to at least seven other women he had met through casting calls or from fan groups.

Wu quickly denied the claim but he was later arrested on suspicion of rape. The Canadian was being tried in June at a junior court in Beijing although the outcome of the trial is unclear.

Last week, it was Li’s turn to claim his innocence prior to his arrest for soliciting prostitutes, which is a crime in the country.

Li soon became the highest trending news story when rumours started circulating that the 35 year-old might be in trouble after his non-appearance at state broadcaster CCTV’s annual Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on Saturday night.

Onlookers pointed out that Li’s name had suddenly been removed from the promotional materials in the lead-up to the event. Suspicions deepened when references to him were erased from the cast list of his previous TV series and films too.

As the online chatter grew louder, Li’s studio published a statement claiming that the speculation was nothing more than rumours and that Li had always “abided by professional ethics, adhered to the moral bottom line and actively shown social responsibility.”

Li himself published a lengthy post on weibo, claiming to be the victim of a smear campaign. “In the open and transparent era of the rule of law, who has the ability to escape the consequences of breaking the law?” he added.

The following day Beijing police announced that a man with the surname of Li had been detained for soliciting prostitutes on numerous occasions. State television later confirmed that Li Yifeng was the man concerned and that the actor had confessed to the crime.

Born in 1987 in Chengdu, Li made his debut on the talent show My Hero hosted by Dragon TV in 2007. With his boyish looks, he later appeared as the lead in Swords and Legend in which he starred with starlets Yang Mi and Zheng Shuang. The show was a ratings hit, turning Li into an A-list star.

His popularity continued to grow as the lead in TV series such as The Lost Tomb (2015) and Sparrow (2016). He also appeared in films like Animal World (2018), which starred Michael Douglas, before taking on the role of Mao Zedong in last year’s blockbuster The Pioneer, patriotic fare that coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China.

Chinese regulators have issued repeated warnings to the celebrity world that stars must show more “moral” behaviour and “consciously oppose decadent ideas of money worship, hedonism and extreme individualism”. Wu’s arrest last year was also portrayed as an example of China’s strong rule of law, as well as the need to clean up the celebrity culture.

The news of Li’s downfall immediately ranked near the top of trending topics on Sina Weibo, with netizens bemused by his previous statements of innocence.

“Did Li really think that by downplaying the incident, the whole thing would just quietly go away?” one asked incredulously.

“Li asked on his weibo whether it is possible for anyone to escape the consequences of breaking the law. He has just answered his own question: that is, no,” another thundered.

With nearly 62 million followers on Sina Weibo, Li was a former favourite for advertisers, endorsing as many as 13 brands prior to his downfall. “Li Yifeng reportedly charged about Rmb10 million to Rmb15 million for endorsement deals over the last two years. So what that means is that just from endorsement contracts alone, his worth exceeded Rmb100 million,” Entertainment Capital, a show-business blog, calculated.

Following his arrest, most of the advertisers raced for the exit, however. Prada, Panerai, Sensodyne and Remy Martin have all announced terminations of their partnerships with the star. Netizens warmed to the task of finding out who else had dropped him, saying that search results highlighting Li in Budweiser and L’Oreal accounts on Sina Weibo were also coming up blank, despite a previous commercial relationship with the actor.

There were also pictures online of workers frantically covering up advertising banners that featured the star in shopping malls.

A video in which Li had introduced the work of public prosecutors was swiftly removed from the official Sina Weibo account of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the China Daily noted.

Netizens were quick to chime in on his offence as well. “Li Yifeng is not the first person in show business to solicit prostitutes, nor will he be the last,” one observed. “But why would he solicit prostitutes when there is no shortage of women who would sleep with him for free? The reason is because he is too rich. Once you become so rich you have an insatiable appetite for stimulation and hiring escorts is exciting. Whether or not they are in show business, when a person becomes too rich, power and money clouds their judgement!”

“It appears that celebrities in China are victims of two things: one is shui (税, which means ‘taxes’), and another is also shui (睡, which means ‘sleep’),” another joked. “So, in a nutshell, pay your taxes and don’t sleep around.”

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