PAUL J. MOONEY

Freelance Journalist

DAILY BEAST, JUNE 9, 2012

Chinese Not Surprised By Zhang Ziyi Scandal

 

 

BY PAUL MOONEY IN BEIJING

 

When the rumor broke that Chinese film star Zhang Ziyi had been paid for sex with disgraced Communist Party strongman Bo Xilai, the story grabbed headlines around the world. But in China, where many believe that liaisons like this are just part of doing business, few eyebrows were raised by the allegations. 

An angry Zhang, 33, was quick to deny the rumors that she’d had sex more than 10 times with Bo between 2007 and 2011 for $1 million each time. Industry sources have also expressed doubts about the news, saying that the wealthy actress, who has starred in a number of Chinese and foreign blockbusters, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Rush Hour, and Memoirs of a Geisha, would have little need to trade her body for cash. Her latest movie, interestingly named Dangerous Liaisons, had its world preview at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, but Zhang failed to appear, leading to speculation that she is under investigation in the Bo case and so couldn’t leave China. Zhang explained to the media that she was busy working on her next film and thus could not attend the event. 

It’s very possible that Zhang has become the latest victim in the Communist Party’s smear campaign aimed at thoroughly destroying Bo. The once powerful princeling, who is under investigation for violating party discipline, was dismissed as party chief of Chongqing in March and dropped from the Politburo a month later. His wife, Gu Kailai, is reportedly suspected to be responsible for the murder of a British businessman in November. In recent months, a steady stream of scandals surrounding the Bo family has been leaked to the Western media—most likely by his political opponents. Film-industry sources say that the Chinese actress has offended a number of people, anyone of whom could have been the source for the unsubstantiated rumors. 

Still, many Chinese say they believed the story of sexual liaisons. Right or wrong, there’s a widely held perception in China that many beautiful actresses, singers, and dancers sleep their way to success. 

Ada Shen, an American who has worked as a film producer for years in China, said that she’s seen little evidence that Chinese actresses regularly trade sex for favors. “The idea that you can sleep your way to the top is not well founded,” says Shen. ‘I can’t say it’s not a problem, but I also can’t say it’s institutionalized.” 

Yet insiders say the problem of trading sex for favors may be more prominent among young star wannabes, who’ve not made it in the industry yet. It’s no secret that expensive cars pile up outside the gates of the Beijing Film Academy, the Central Academy of Drama, and other prestigious arts schools around the city, waiting to pick up students as they leave campus. The editor of the Chinese edition of a leading American fashion magazine says girls at performing-arts schools openly talk about their gandie, or “godfathers,” who fund their expensive lifestyles and who hopefully will be able to give their nascent careers a nudge. 

“People who want to get into the Beijing Film Academy need guanxi [connections],” says Yu Qi, a book editor in Beijing. “And once you get in, you need money.” 

“To become famous you need expensive clothes, name-brand bags, to be seen in expensive places, and you need directors to give you roles,” she says. “They have a great number of needs.” 

The magazine editor says the skyrocketing property market in leading cities is another factor pushing the liaison between beautiful young women and powerful men. She says a decade ago she was able to purchase an apartment on her modest salary as a young journalist. No more. “Housing prices have shot up and many people have had their dreams shattered,” she said. “A girl today could work her entire life and never be able to afford an apartment.” “But if you have a godfather, he may give you a car and a house, something that otherwise could take a lifetime to obtain,” she says. 

Meanwhile high-level officials and wealthy businessmen see beautiful young women as status symbols to be conquered. “I’ve got a Mercedes and now I have a beautiful girl sitting in it,” says the editor, mimicking a powerful man. Yu says further that wealthy businessmen can be quite persistent. “I have money and I like you,” they say. “I’ll pelt you with my money until you come with me.” She says the girls are showered in money and gifts and are taken to good restaurants and interesting places. “How long can they resist this?” she asks. Yu tells of a wealthy Chinese businessman who apparently invested in a TV drama just so he could get close to the actresses. 
 

 

© 2013 Paul J. Mooney