BEIJING: The ruling Communist Party of China has taken advantage of the high-profile arrest of a Canadian Chinese pop singer in Beijing on suspicion of rape to issue a stern warning against what it considers a social evil: the obsession with celebrities.
In less than a month, pop singer Kris Wu, 30, has gone from being one of China’s biggest stars, with several lucrative endorsements and legions of young fans, to perhaps the most prominent figure in the country to be apprehended. for the #MeToo accusations. . Police said over the weekend that Wu was under investigation after weeks of public allegations of sexual wrongdoing against him, although authorities provided few details.
Born in China and raised partly in Canada, Wu rose to fame as a member of the Korean pop band EXO, before standing out on his own as a singer and actor. She built a large following in China with her neat appearance and edgy daring. He racked up endorsement deals with many national and international brands, including Bulgari and Louis Vuitton.
Wu has not been indicted, but his career in China has already made a big impact. After increasing public pressure, more than a dozen brands cut ties with him. His Weibo social media account, where he had more than 51 million followers, was deleted shortly after news of his arrest. His songs have also disappeared from Chinese music platforms.
Chinese women’s rights activists have hailed the arrest as a rare victory for the country’s fledgling #MeToo movement. But the official Communist Party media has largely presented the investigation into Wu as proof that the party, led by Xi Jinping, one of its hardest-line leaders in decades, defends the interests of ordinary people.
Guo Ting, a gender studies scholar at the University of Hong Kong, said: “Xi has tried to reinvent the party as the legitimate party for the people and the party of Chinese socialism for the people.” By going after Wu, he added, the party is “targeting the so-called rich and powerful, while circumventing the real gray area type of that wealth and power within the party’s elite.”
When the accusations against Wu first surfaced weeks ago, the party’s propaganda media was largely silent. But after his arrest, they posted comments and news reports that hailed him as a lesson for celebrities.
“Wu Yifan has money, is handsome and has the status of being a ‘top star’,” read a comment in The Global Times, a newspaper run by the Communist Party, referring to the singer by his Chinese name. “Maybe he thought ‘sleeping with women’ was his advantage, maybe even his privilege.”
“But at this precise point he has been wrong,” the newspaper said.
Some of the rhetoric pointed out that foreign citizenship does not place celebrities outside the reach of the law, pointing in part to ongoing tensions between China and Canada, as well as growing anti-Western sentiment among Chinese.
CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, said in a comment: “No one has a talisman: the halo of celebrity cannot protect you, fans cannot protect you, a foreign passport cannot protect you.”
The focus of the state media reflects the recent Chinese government crackdown on the entertainment industry and celebrity cult culture that Beijing has accused of diverting youth from the country. Authorities have stepped up censorship, cracked down on the widespread practice of tax evasion within the industry, and imposed limits on the salaries of the country’s top movie stars.
Concerns about the enormous influence of celebrities on the country’s youth peaked in May when fans supporting contestants in a boy band competition spent huge sums of money buying, and then seemingly discarding, yogurt drinks for vote for your favorite idols. The government promptly issued regulations aimed at cracking down on what they called “chaotic” online fan clubs and their “irrational” behaviors. Authorities said Monday they had already removed thousands of “problem groups” as part of an ongoing effort to address “bad online fan culture.”
Authorities “are concerned about the impact on youth,” said Bai Meijiadai, a professor at Liaoning University in northeast China who studies fan culture. “They want to see young people studying and working, without spending excessive amounts of money to chase stars.”
Wu also had an army of fans eager to open their wallets to bolster his image by buying albums and even making donations to charities on his behalf. He has also tried to use his influence to pressure his critics to keep quiet, according to his accuser and producer of a popular show business show.
The producer, Xiao Wei, said that his show, “Xiu Cai Kan Entertainment,” had been forced to remove a video he posted online in which his hosts criticized Wu after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged. Xiao said the short video platform Douyin had told the show that Wu’s lawyers had contacted them.
“This is an era of stars, fans and traffic,” Xiao said in an interview. “Money has become the only criterion for success, this is not correct.”
The police investigation into Wu came weeks after a college student, Du Meizhu, now 18, accused the singer of luring young women like her with the promise of career opportunities and then pressuring them to have sex.
Du’s public allegations were met with great support, but also criticism from fans of the singer, sparking debates about the victim’s shame, consent, and abuse of power in the workplace.
Some women’s rights activists saw Wu’s arrest as a sign that feminist values had finally penetrated the mainstream to the point where authorities could no longer afford to look the other way. They said they were hopeful that it would encourage more women to share their experiences and that it could lead to broader avenues of legal recourse for survivors of sexual assault.
“This time, progress was made very suddenly, but it was very satisfying,” said Li Tingting, a gender equality activist in Beijing. “Everyone is looking forward to what will happen in the future.”
But it was not clear whether the Beijing police were specifically investigating Du’s complaints. Last month, authorities released initial findings on her allegations that she had promoted her story to “increase her popularity online.”
He did not respond to requests for comment. Emails to Wu’s studio and his attorney received no response. Wu denied the allegations on his personal Weibo account last month, saying that he would send himself to jail if they were true.
Despite the surprising development, activists know that China’s #MeToo movement is heavily restricted by the government’s strict limits on dissent and activism. Women who have previously brought allegations of sexual harassment and assault against prominent men have often become the targets of threats and defamation lawsuits. Feminist activist accounts and chat groups on Chinese social networking sites are routinely closed.
The speed with which the authorities have addressed complaints against Wu contrasts with the way they responded to accusations by #MeToo against Zhu Jun, a prominent television personality from CCTV, the state broadcaster. Zhu was accused by a former intern, Zhou Xiaoxuan, in 2018 of forcibly kissing and groping her in 2014 while she was working on his show, allegations that he has denied. Zhou sued Zhu for damages, but three years later, his complaint remains unresolved.
Wu, by comparison, is not part of the party establishment.
Guo from the University of Hong Kong said: “It is still a state capitalist system and Wu Yifan is not part of that official establishment,” adding, “His nationality and status, I think, make things easier for the party. to, on the one hand, interrupt it, while maintaining its own legitimacy “.