Recently, scandals and controversies have been hailing over China’s cultural elite: From celebrities arrested for drug offences to domestic violence, Chinese stars have disappointed many of their fans and supporters with their disgraceful behavior, showing lack of self-discipline and poor moral conduct.
These kinds of scandals are not exclusive to China, celebrities across the globe have to deal with the same issues, social and personal. Canadian singer Alessia Cara stepped up and started a discussion on the topic of cyber bullying that she and many others encountered. Another Canadian singer, Shawn Mendes, also reached out to his social media followers to share his opinion on the sexual controversy that he was recently involved in.
There is a stark contrast between how celebrities in different countries tackle these controversies. Over the past few years, celebrities in North America have been making positive impacts on trending social issues, such as Taylor Swift on the recent midterm election and Ellen Degeneres on the #Metoo movements against sexual abuse and harassment. These types of actions were scarce among Chinese celebrities. While #Metoo did reach China, albeit briefly, Chinese celebrities, who might once have been the victims of sexual coercion and oppression, remain quiet about their experiences.
To become a star in showbiz, one has to be talented and well-trained in singing, dancing, acting as well as upholding your image. These principles apply to celebrities all around the world. However, it seems like Chinese celebrities are reserving their talent and their influence for their own personal gain, rather than advocating for change and discussing social issues. It makes people feel like that key element among Chinese celebrities is missing: social responsibility.
It is evidently not right to force celebrities to voice their opinions on all social issues. However, remaining silent about many of the rising concerns in Chinese society is certainly not ideal. We all understand that it takes a lot of courage to speak up about some of the more sensitive issues in the country. However, discussing air pollution, wage gaps, and sexual harassment is essential to ensure a safe and positive environment for future Chinese generations. The lack of advocates among Chinese celebrities is concerning: The attention they seek is solely to help them in their own careers, nothing more, nothing less.
But what choice do they have? The Chinese celebrities certainly have some valid excuses to stay silent: Working in a country where speech is not entirely “free”, they lack opportunity to speak up against injustice. Despite their achievements and large following, these celebrities fear that they might lose their income and future opportunities for the things they say. With a carefully thought-out and reserved way of speaking, Chinese stars are constantly confined to a small space to express their opinions on social issues.
In addition, one could argue that Chinese fans are not ready for some of the controversial topics presented to them. Chinese actress Yao Chen experienced massive cyberbullying and abusive comments for taking a stance on the global refugee crisis earlier in 2017. Issues such as LGBT rights, refugees and immigration, and gender equality are, unfortunately, still under debate in China. For celebrities who rely on fans’ support to make a living, it is simply not wise for them to pick sides on these issues as they risk losing a sizeable portion of their fan base and could potentially have detrimental effects on their careers.
Having very little space to freely express themselves and constantly being in danger of losing supporters, Chinese celebrities are in an awkward position. That feeling of being frequently under scrutiny and the pressure of staying relevant makes it very difficult to maintain a ‘perfect public image’. Fans and authorities are expecting them to be saints, without fault always acting flawlessly, yet they are just people, and often young people at that. They cannot be blamed for being confused at times or making the odd mistake.
It is true that these celebrities are earning significantly more than average Joes like you and me. But with a large sum of money on their hands, these young talented artists may not have set plans on how to invest in their future or how to get involved in charity. The lack of social responsibility leads them to mass consumption, unwise spendings, and on some occasions, drug-related incidents and offenses. It is evident that everyone makes poor choices at some point in their life, but for these celebrities, the poor choices they make using their wealth could have more serious consequences and even the smallest slip-up could be detrimental to their careers. Perhaps there should be mandatory lectures on ethics and criminal laws for celebrities to take before reaching fame: The knowledge could perhaps save them from making regretful mistakes later on in their careers.
Chinese celebrities are certainly not representing the best of their country. But besides the current poor image, it is worthwhile for all of us to think about the causes of these scandals: Is it the country’s system that is making them behave in such ways, or is it their personal judgments that led them onto a path of shame and constant mistakes?
Featured photo credit to zhuanlan.zhihu