pop culture cover

The Moral Burden of Being a Chinese Celebrity

Why do Chinese fans expect social responsibility and absolute morality from stars?

It was a fall of Icarian scale. For over a decade, actress Zheng Shuang had been a rising star, taking lead roles in popular TV shows, receiving prestigious awards and luxury brand endorsements.

But it all came crashing to the ground on January 18, 2021, when Zheng’s ex-boyfriend Zhang Heng revealed that the couple had become parents to two children in the US by surrogacy a year prior, and that Zheng was refusing to sign papers that would bring the infants back to China.

Zheng hiring two surrogate mothers in the US, while surrogacy is illegal in the PRC, drew the public’s ire as it illustrated how the rich and famous can skirt the country’s laws. But perhaps worse was a purported voice recording of Zheng complaining that the fetuses were too far along to be aborted, and her mother suggesting they “abandon” the children after they are born. The public storm was so large that the State Administration of Radio and Television waded in, issuing a statement on their WeChat account that “surrogacy and abandonment [of children] are against social morality” and, as a result, “we will not provide victims of scandal opportunities and platforms to speak out and show their faces.”

This is subscriber exclusive content

Become a subscriber to continue reading

The Moral Burden of Being a Chinese Celebrity is a story from our issue, “Something Old Something New.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Alex Colville

Alex Colville is the former culture editor at The World of Chinese. Blown to China by the tides of curiosity, then marooned here by the squalls of Covid, Alex used to write for 1843, The Economist, and the Spectator from the confines of a cold London flat. When he’s not writing for TWOC, he can be found researching his bi-weekly column for SupChina from the confines of his freezing Beijing hutong.

Related Articles