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Top Celebrity Scandals of 2019

Fake degrees, political mistakes, and battles with brands—it has been another juicy year for gossip

As 2019 draws to a close, so the usual array of year-end lists and round-ups are open for business. In the spirit of variety, The World of Chinese has endeavored to chronicle the countdowns that others don’t.

The ancient Chinese may have seen them as tokens of love, but for anyone following China’s entertainment world today, the word 瓜 (melon) means just one thing—gossip, the juicier the better. In honor of another year’s plump melon harvest, we kick off our end-of-year roundup lists with delicious scandals, gaffes, and revelations from the murky world of celebrity.

1. Sun Nan’s daughter learns feminine virtue

In January, actor Sun Nan posted photos of himself taking his daughter to guoxue (国学, “national studies”) classes at a private school in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province. However, netizens found a “needlework” course at the school with disturbing similarities with China’s notorious “feminine virtue” academies, as it taught girls that their primary mission in life is to assist their husband, teach their children, and manage the household. Sun responded that his daughter was taking the classes due to her own interest in “traditional culture,” and urged netizens to respect her choice.

2. Celebrities fake achievements

In February, actor Zhai Tianlin, China’s self-appointed “highest educated actor,” was stripped of his PhD from the Beijing Film Academy after he was discovered to have plagiarized his Master’s thesis and one other paper during his doctoral studies. Actress Jiang Yiyan also courted derision in October by claiming to have won a Spanish architectural award—when in reality, she simply owned the award-winning building.

3. Zhao Lixin’s historic mistake

In April, possibly after too many beers, Swedish-Chinese actor Zhao Lixin asked on social media, “Why didn’t the Japanese burn down the Forbidden City and loot everything in the eight years they occupied Beijing? Does that sound like the nature of an invader?” His perceived whitewashing of the 1937 – 1945 Japanese occupation of the capital was predictably slammed by official institutions like the Communist Youth League and Purple Pavilion, the magazine of the State Organs Work Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Swedish-Chines actor Zhao Lixun's infamous social media post.

Screenshot of Zhao’s infamous question

Though Zhao apologized shortly after the incident, fans noticed that his face had been digitally “swapped” with that of another actor in all his scenes in October’s spy drama The Glorious Era, suggesting that the controversy hasn’t blown over.

5. Wang Yuan smokes indoors

Wang Yuan, fresh-faced member of the boy band TFBoys, took a hit to his wholesome image when footage surfaced of him smoking inside a Beijing restaurant in May. Parts of the public sympathized with Wang in the ensuing controversy, pointing out that their boyish idol is, after all, already 18 and an adult; others noted, though, that smoking in indoor public spaces has been banned in Beijing since 2015. Wang apologized for his behavior in a TV interview soon after the incident.

6. Reyizha Alimjan’s revelations

After internet trolls accused her of “seeking attention with her breasts” by wearing a low-cut top at the airport in July, actress Reyizha Alimjan inadvertently provoked fierce debate over Chinese women’s fashion freedom. In August, the actress opened up about her struggles with depression, showing a largely uninformed public that it’s possible even for someone who “has it all” to experience mental health issues, and recently appeared on talk show Qipa Talk to urge fellow sufferers to seek help.

6. Brands fall off the map

In August, actresses Liu Wen and Guan Xiaotong announced they were no longer working as a spokesperson for Coach after the high-end fashion brand was found listing Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries from China on a T-shirt, as well as its official website. This prompted a slew of celebrity sign-offs from other brands—including Versace, Givenchy, and Fresh—for similar “insults to China.” In October, luxury brand Dior apologized for excluding Taiwan from a map of China in a school presentation in Zhejiang, and played a patriotic song at the end of its Shanghai gala shortly after.

7. Wang Sicong can’t spend

Alright, so he’s not an entertainment celebrity—but he is certainly entertaining. Wang Sicong, scion of the Wanda Group, has for years cultivated a spoiled fu’erdai image: putting gold Apple watches and a Hermes collar on his dog, posting a lost-and-found notice for a wallet “containing black cards of every kind from major banks.” You can imagine netizens’ schadenfreude when the big spender was slapped with “high-end consumption bans” by two courts in October and November due to a financial dispute involving his live streaming business, barring him from some of his favorite activities like traveling in first class and visiting nightclubs.

8. Godfrey Gao’s death

On November 27, 35-year-old Canadian actor Godfrey Gao died of cardiac arrest during the filming of Zhejiang TV reality show Chase Me. Gao had reportedly been working for more than 17 hours when he collapsed on set, and videos showing a lack of ambulances or emergency medical staff in the vicinity made fans question the safety standards in the business.

9. Jiang Jinfu’s violent streak

Just a year after actor Jiang Jinfu apologized for assaulting his girlfriend Haruka Nakaura, he has again been accused of domestic violence by another ex-girlfriend. According to the woman, Jiang controlled her social life and finances, physically assaulted her, and threatened to kill her. Jiang’s lawyer has denied these accusations.

10. China’s “Adele Dazeem”

In 2013, on the Chinese version of reality show The X Factor, host Zhu Dan mistakenly announced the SMS number of Zhejiang TV (used by fans in voting and receive information on the show) in lieu of that of her employers, Hunan TV. Since then, Zhu had kept a relatively low profile, but was up to her old tricks again at the 2019 Cosmo Glam Night in Shanghai on December 3, bungling the name of no less than four celebrities. Then, at another fashion show on December 10, she congratulated singer “Zhao Linong” (Chen Linong) for the being named the “highest commercial value artist of the year” (like singer Idina Menzel at the 2014 Academy Awards, Chen took it well).

Cover image by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash


author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the former managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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