The ruling Chinese Communist Party has used the high-profile detention of a Chinese Canadian pop singer in Beijing on suspicion of rape to issue a stern warning of what it sees as a social evil: celebrity obsession.
In less than a month, pop singer Kris Wu, 30, has grown from one of China’s biggest stars, with several lucrative backers and legions of young female fans, to perhaps the most prominent figure of the country detained for #MeToo allegations. Police said over the weekend that Mr. Wu was under investigation after weeks of public accusations of sexual mischief against him, although officials provided few details.
Born in China and raised partly in Canada, Mr. Wu rose to fame as a member of Korean pop group EXO, before going out on his own as a singer and actor. He has built himself a huge success in China with his polished beauty and avant-garde swagger. He has accumulated endorsement contracts with many national and international brands, including Bulgari and Louis Vuitton.
Mr. Wu has not been formally charged, but his career in China has already taken a hard hit. After increasing public pressure, more than a dozen brands cut ties with him. His account on social media Weibo, where he had more than 51 million followers, was deleted shortly after the announcement of his detention. His songs have also disappeared from Chinese music platforms.
Chinese women’s rights activists hailed the detention as a rare victory for the country’s nascent #MeToo movement. But official Communist Party news outlets have widely presented the Wu investigation as proof that the party, led by Xi Jinping, one of its toughest leaders in decades, is standing up for the interests of ordinary people. .
Guo Ting, a gender studies specialist at the University of Hong Kong, said, “Xi has tried to reinvent the party as a legitimate party for the people and a party of Chinese socialism for the people. In attacking Mr. Wu, she added, the party “targets the so-called rich and powerful, while avoiding the real gray area of that wealth and power within the party elite. “.
When the charges against Mr. Wu first surfaced a few weeks ago, the party’s propaganda organs remained largely silent. But after his detention, they posted comments and reports hailing him as a lesson for the celebrities.
“Wu Yifan has money, he is good looking and he has ‘top star’ status,” we read a commentary 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 on this precise point, he was wrong,” the newspaper notes.
Some of the rhetoric noted that foreign citizenship does not put celebrities out of the reach of the law, in part highlighting lingering tensions between China and Canada as well as rising anti-Western sentiment among Chinese people.
CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster, said in a comment, “No one has a talisman – the celebrity halo can’t protect you, fans can’t protect you, a foreign passport can’t protect you.”
The state media’s approach reflects the recent Chinese government’s crackdown on the entertainment industry and celebrity cult culture that Beijing has accused of misleading the country’s youth. The authorities have stepped up censorship, cracked down on the widespread practice of tax evasion within the industry and imposed caps on the salaries of the country’s biggest movie stars.
Concerns about the disproportionate influence of celebrities on the country’s youth peaked in May when fans supporting contestants in a boy band contest spent huge sums of money buying – and then apparently throwing away – drinks yogurt to vote for their favorite idols. The government quickly issued regulations to crack down on what they called “chaotic” online fan clubs and their “irrational” behavior. Authorities said Monday they had already eliminated thousands of “problematic bands” as part of an ongoing effort to tackle “bad fan culture online.”
Authorities “are concerned about the impact on young people,” said Bai Meijiadai, a professor at Liaoning University in northeast China who studies fan culture. “They want to see young people study and work, not to spend excessive sums on chasing the stars.”
Mr. Wu also had an army of fans eager to open their wallets to bolster his image by purchasing albums and even donating to charities on his behalf. He also sought to use his influence to silence his critics, according to his accuser and producer of a popular showbiz show.
Producer Xiao Wei said his show, “Xiu Cai Kan Entertainment,” was forced to delete a video he posted online in which its hosts criticized Mr. Wu after allegations of sexual misconduct were raised. emerged. Mr. Xiao said the short video platform Douyin told the program that they had been contacted by Mr. Wu’s lawyers.
“This is a time of stars, fans and traffic,” Mr. Xiao said in an interview. “Money has become the only yardstick for success – it’s not fair.”
China’s tightening grip
- Xi warning: A century after the founding of the Communist Party, the Chinese leader declared that foreign powers “would break their heads and spill blood” if they tried to stop its rise.
- Behind the Hong Kong takeover: A year ago, the city’s freedoms were reduced at breakneck speed. But the crackdown lasted for years and many signals were missed.
- A year later in Hong Kong: Neighbors are invited to point out each other. Children learn to look for traitors. The Communist Party is remaking the city.
- Charting China’s post-Covid path: Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, seeks to balance confidence and caution as his country progresses while other countries continue to fight the pandemic.
- A challenge for the global leadership of the United States: As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to defend the other side.
- “Red tourism” flourishes: New and improved attractions dedicated to the history of the Communist Party, or a sanitized version of it, draw crowds ahead of the party’s centenary.
The police investigation of Mr. Wu came weeks after university student Du Meizhu, now 18, accused the singer of seducing young women like her by promising them career opportunities. , then push them to have sex.
Ms. Du’s public accusations sparked a surge of support, but also criticism from fans of the singer, sparking debates over the shame of victims, consent and abuse of power in the workplace.
Some women’s rights activists saw Mr. Wu’s detention as a sign that feminist values had finally crept into the mainstream to the point where authorities could no longer afford to look away. They said they hoped it would encourage more women to share their experiences and that it could lead to broader legal remedies 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 Ms. Du’s complaints. Last month, authorities released the first findings on her claims that she had used her story to “improve her popularity online.”
Ms. Du did not respond to requests for comment. Emails to Mr. Wu’s studio and his attorney went unanswered. Mr. Wu denied the allegations on his personal Weibo account last month, saying he would send himself to jail if they were true.
Despite the surprising development, activists know that the #MeToo movement in China is narrowly constrained by the government’s strict limits on dissent and activism. Women who have previously brought sexual harassment and assault charges against prominent men have often become the targets of threats and defamation lawsuits. Accounts of feminist activists and discussion groups on Chinese social media sites are regularly closed.
The speed with which authorities dealt with the complaints against Mr. Wu contrasts with the way they responded to #MeToo’s accusations against Zhu Jun, a television personality from CCTV, the state broadcaster. Mr. Zhu was accused by former intern Zhou Xiaoxuan in 2018 of forcibly kissing and groping her in 2014 while she was working on his program, charges he denied. Ms. Zhou sued Mr. Zhu for damages, but three years later, his complaint is still unresolved.
Mr. Wu, by comparison, is not part of the party establishment.
Professor Guo, University of Hong Kong, said, “It is still a state capitalist system and Wu Yifan is not part of this official establishment,” adding, “His nationality and status, I think. , facilitate the task of the parties to cut it on the one hand, while retaining its own legitimacy.