There’s a huge celebrity scandal happening in the east. After several weeks of online allegations of sexual assault, superstar Kris Wu has been detained in China. He denied the accusations but he’s been dropped by sponsors and over the weekend was brought in by the police on suspicion of rape.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, to give you some idea of Kris Wu’s level of fame, he started out as a member of the band EXO, which was already a big deal, and then went solo and became even more popular, continuing to record music and perform at sold out concerts, and star in films and television series. If you’re looking for a western equivalent, think Harry Styles. That’s how big this story is. And it’s made headlines worldwide.
So is this a victory for #MeToo in the east, and particularly in China, where the movement has been met with significant resistance, and in some cases by the state. Some are hopeful that this does mean progress, but others remain skeptical. It’s not just because there are already Kris Wu fans who’ve been trying to discredit the victims who’ve come forward but also because, as the New York Times reported, China’s Communist Party isn’t exactly centering the messaging on women’s rights. Per the NYT:
“When the accusations against Mr. Wu first emerged weeks ago, the party’s propaganda outlets largely stayed quiet. But after his detention, they put out commentaries and news reports hailing it as a lesson to celebrities.
“Wu Yifan has money, he’s handsome and he has the status of being a ‘top star,’” read a commentary in The Global Times, a Communist Party-run newspaper, referring to the singer by his Chinese name. “Perhaps he thought that ‘sleeping with women’ was his advantage, maybe even his privilege.”
“But on this precise point he has made a mistake,” the newspaper noted.
Some of the rhetoric noted that foreign citizenship did not place celebrities beyond the reach of the law, pointing in part to continuing tensions between China and Canada as well as rising anti-Western sentiment among Chinese.
CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, said in a commentary, “No one has a talisman — the halo of celebrity cannot protect you, fans cannot protect you, a foreign passport cannot protect you.”
The foreign passport reference is because Kris Wu was born in China but lived for a few years in Canada and has Canadian citizenship. So certain critics of the party are speculating that his detainment isn’t a stance in support of #MeToo but rather about pursuing an agenda that the state has been developing against celebrity culture. What’s their issue with celebrities?
Influence and power…perhaps?
Celebrities can move product –fans in general but, in particular, fans of East Asian megastars will buy, will spend, will stream, they will attach to whatever it is that their idols are promoting in big numbers.
It’s one thing when it’s pair of shoes, beauty products, and fragrances, but what if what if it’s an… idea? Celebrities can move ideas too. And in a country like China, ideas can be dangerous, at least for the status quo. Kris Wu isn’t known to be political or an activist. But there may come a time when there’s another superstar who is about social change, who is vocal on progressive issues that may present a problem for the state. And there are some people who are wondering whether or not they’re trying to get ahead of that by curbing celebrity influence now.
So while there are of course positive takeaways here for the women who spoke out against Kris Wu – and to be clear, I believe the women, the point is that women should be supported… by the public and by institutions that are supposed to protect the members of the public against sexual assault. But it still remains to be seen whether or not his detainment actually represents a win for gender equality in Chinese culture as a national and social priority.