At 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 31, Beijing police announced the formal detainment of Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu on rape allegations. This is the first time such a high-profile celebrity in China has been charged under suspicion of rape. Previous sexual assault cases that involved public figures, such as CCTV host Zhu Jun and JD Group’s founder Liu Qiangdong, have mostly gone unresolved.
The news came as a victory for Chinese feminists, but for Wu’s own fans, this long-waited outcome was too hard to swallow.
Over the days of the scandal’s fermenting, Pandaily collected reactions from Wu’s remaining supporters and sorted their arguments roughly into three categories: those appealing to emotions, the conspiracists and the so-called “RONs,” i.e. those who claim to be rational, objective and neutral.
To a large extent, these arguments, especially the latter two categories, go beyond the blind support of crazed fans for their beloved idol, but represent some of the recurring voices against China’s feminist movement in general.
The emotion-driven fans
This group represents Wu’s most loyal fan base, many of whom expressed feelings of heartbreak and confusion as the image of a man supposedly dutiful and respectful towards women collapsed.
“I don’t believe it. I have been his fan for nine years. I only trust his own words. I don’t understand why he would do such things.”
“It is so sad that someone [Wu] who would help his mom with housework, who learned how to drive just to help his mom out, who loves his mom and respects women, has been demonized as someone the complete opposite.”
“No one is perfect. You have to allow him to make mistakes…he will become a better person after these setbacks.”
Others seem to claim personal and undying loyalty for its own sake.
“I love him no matter what.”
“We the fans did not come amid the height of his fame, and we will not abandon him in his toughest time.”
“You [Wu] are not alone.”
For outsiders, these fans appear no better than brain-washed mobs who refuse to accept the truth. But for the fans themselves, this unbending loyalty also comes from the actual labor that they have invested as part of their expression of love for Wu.
A fan who goes by the name Zhang (@张张再长高一点) expressed her support for Kris Wu by organizing charity events in his name. She has been active in an organization called “Kris Wu Dream Walking Group”, a charity group established by and composed of Wu’s fans to help people achieve their dreams. The group has held more than 100 charity events over the past four years, also present during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
Zhang participated in three of the group’s events, each of which produced a “pleasant, fulfilling and proud” memory, according to her own Weibo account. In late July, as the central Chinese province Henan was hit by an unprecedented flood, and when Wu’s scandal first ignited public anger on social media, Zhang collected donations from fans, purchased instant noodles, bottled water and sanitary pads, hired two trucks, and sent them to the flood-hit city of Zhengzhou.
The trucks arrived in front of a hospital. Zhang put up banners that wrote “Donation from Kris Wu Fans,” and waited for staff from the hospital to accept the aid. As she waited, two girls passed by, chuckling, “Is this a joke? Why is he still making donations now?” A nurse from the hospital said, “Can you take the banner down? It’s so ugly.”
On WeChat, Zhang cried to her friend – also a fan of Kris Wu – “People here keep saying Wu will be banned soon. They said he shouldn’t be sending donations here…I can’t stand it anymore.” Depressed by the ridicule from passers-by, Zhang eventually took the banner with Wu’s name down, although the supplies from fans were still donated.
Another member of the charity group shared a conversation in which her friend, knowing she was heartbroken over Wu’s scandal, tried to comfort her. “You have become a better person over the years because of Kris Wu. You did a lot of charity work and made a lot of friends along the way…Even if you are no longer his fan, you still have had these years of happiness.”
Following Wu’s arrest, Sina Weibo removed his social media account on Sunday, together with his Super Topic Community, where fans usually virtually gather. The official account of the “Kris Wu Dream Walking Group” was removed on the same day.
Apart from the emotionalists, there is also a strong tendency among Kris Wu supporters to victimize him by inventing conspiracies. In such narratives, Wu is either a sacrifice of the ferocious competition in China’s entertainment industry, or an overly kind boy cheated and used by wicked women.
The first conspiracy that sees Wu as a victim of his very own industry originated from a key feature of Chinese fan culture: The “data-is-everything logic.” Chinese scholar Yin Yiyi argues that the defining feature of online fandom in today’s China is its obsession with the “traffic data” celebrities can attract, which will determine their popularity and ultimately their commercial value in the entertainment industry. Under this logic, fans gather together to create more data traffic for their idols through activities such as collective voting and trolling, and by doing so, they become a highly exclusive community. In most cases, fan communities are not only exclusive but also hostile against each other, because everyone is a potential competitor who may harm the fame and commercial value of their own idols.
It is therefore easy to understand that as brands cut ties with Kris Wu, some fans are convinced that the scandal was plotted by Wu’s green-eyed competitors. “Some losers in the industry are just jealous of Kris’s top commercial value, and they see Kris as the archenemy,” one fan wrote bitterly.
The second narrative – also one emphasizing Wu’s victimization – takes a common argument present in most other episodes in the Chinese #MeToo movement: The women are to blame.
“Du has such a powerful team behind her. Wouldn’t you have nightmares when you smear an innocent person like this?” This Weibo post accused Du Meizhu, the first woman among the roughly twenty to make public allegations against Wu, of fabricating rumors. The post gathered 1.4 thousand likes.
Here, Wu is victimized as someone set up by a woman and the “powerful team” behind her. According to this theory, by exposing details of her being sexually assaulted by Kris Wu, Du, a social media influencer, was trying to attract public attention and turn it into profits at the price of Wu’s reputation.
In one of her early posts, Du referred to Wu’s sexual incompetence by calling him a “toothpick,” which was soon picked by netizens and made into memes and jokes that went viral on social media. This in turn became another piece of evidence to support the conspiracy theory that Du had sought to destroy Kris Wu. According to his fans, Wu suffered “the largest cyber violence ever on Chinese Internet” after Du’s defamation of the superstar’s sexual prowess.
In the public discussion around Kris Wu scandal, there is another group, the RONs, or those who claim to have taken a rational, objective and neutral position in the debate.
The most common arguments employed by the RONs include “Let’s wait for the result of the authority’s investigation,” and “There is no concrete evidence of Wu’s raping her,” finally, “Public opinion cannot override the justice system.”
This type of supporter is not limited to Kris Wu’s fans; perhaps more notably, many of the RONs tend to be male. On Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website, someone posted the question “Why are there so many people supporting Kris Wu?” Top answers are overwhelmingly appealing to “evidence” and the legal system, with some warning about the tyranny of feminism.
“It’s not about supporting anyone. Du Meizhu accuses Wu of raping her. The legal system will do her justice if she has evidence. But if there is no evidence, no one has the right to judge Wu.”
“I don’t support Kris Wu, but I am definitely against Du Meizhu…Yes, her accusations against Wu might have been right, but she couldn’t provide any evidence…She can use it to target any male in the world, and it would work.”
“I support nobody. The only thing I support is the law…Now there is a very bad trend, where women can easily win over public opinion, and they now have a voice in the Internet space. They begin to use this right to speak for profit, and some even attempt to override authority, to hold trials on the Internet.”
“Today, if we have a public event involving a man and a woman, the women will always come forward first to seize the moral high ground. For them, it is not important to decide who is right and who is wrong, the most important thing is to drive public opinion into a direction favorable to them…If anyone dares to suggest ‘the facts are not clear yet, wait for the official result,’ they will certainly be hunted by these mad feminists.”
Arguments like these still held firm even after Wu’s detention on Saturday, with the RONs insisting that while Wu may deserve what had happened, this doesn’t mean Du Meizhu, and her female supporters in general, had the privilege to wage what they see as cyberbullying on a man without concrete evidence in the name of “girls help girls.”
However, for Chinese feminists, this “bad trend” which Wu supporters harshly repel represents an uplifting episode in China’s #MeToo Movement. In her recent article about Kris Wu, feminist Lü Pin points out that the level of public support that Du Meizhu received was unthinkable even five years ago, when a woman who said she had been emotionally abused and manipulated by Kris Wu spoke out, but was quickly silenced amidst a chorus of slut-shaming curses on the Internet. In this sense, this event is a manifestation of the progress Chinese feminists have made over the years by coming forward bravely to expose male abusers.
For the authorities, though, the point of argument may not lie in whether or not Wu’s detention marks a feminist success, but in a wild entertainment industry in need of some regulation. The high-profile sanction of Kris Wu is unprecedented in the history of the Chinese government’s dealing with tarnished pop stars. To date, all social media accounts related to Kris Wu have been removed, along with the dismissal of nearly 800 fans groups and blocking of 108 Super Topic Communities with “misleading content.” On Tuesday, China’s Cyberspace Administration announced that in the latest campaign targeting “unhealthy fan culture,” it had cleansed more than 150,000 “harmful posts” and closed more than 1300 “problematic groups.”