This year has truly been a celebrity gossip bonanza, with a few more A-listers ending their career at the same time as 2021
When it came to celebrity misbehavior, 2021 was a bonanza for China’s gossip-loving, “melon-eating” netizens. Although TWOC has already written a round-up of some of the juiciest stories from the first two-thirds of the year, the police and government tax investigations managed to sneak a few extras before the year’s end, as part of a government campaign to drain a swamp of corruption and immorality surrounding China’s red-carpet class.
Li Yundi solicited prostitutes
He was the “Prince of Piano,” upheld across China for being the youngest pianist (and the first Chinese) to win the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition in 2000, aged 18. But on October 21, the news broke that Li Yundi had been arrested by Beijing police for soliciting a prostitute (an illegal act in China), ratted out by a group of community informers nicknamed the “Chaoyang Masses.”
That a man who had symbolized the cream of China’s youthful talent was caught with his pants down shocked and surprised many. Employees at Mango TV were kept working late into the night of October 21, blurring out every image of Li that appeared in an episode of the music talent show Call Me by Fire (《披荆斩棘的哥哥》) that was due to air the following evening. Although no announcement has been made as to Li’s punishment, soliciting prostitutes is an offence that typically carries 10 to 15 days of administrative detention. The real punishment will have been to a promising career, now shattered beyond repair.
Leehom Wang’s seedy private life
It is safe to say that bestselling singer and actor Leehom Wang is no longer flavor of the month with Chinese netizens.
On December 15, the Chinese-American star announced he and his wife of eight years, Jinglei Lee, were filing for divorce. “I regret not doing well in many areas,” Wang vaguely apologized, while also saying neither he nor Lee would be responding to media queries. Two days later, however, Lee wrote an extensive post on Instagram explaining her own side of the story: saying that she had given up her career to be a housewife because Wang had wanted children, only for him to leave her alone with the children for months on end. She wrote that Wang also carried on several affairs and solicited prostitutes during their marriage, and forced her into a pre-nuptial agreement locking her out of any asset ownership (and hence any leverage after the divorce). Although Wang initially denied the accusations, on December 20, he apologized on social media after a public outcry, saying he would be temporarily be stepping down from the entertainment industry.
Some of revelations about Wang weren’t new—tabloids had reported he was seeing prostitutes as far back as 2012—but the scandal shattered Wang’s perceived “nice guy” persona, and entangled other big names: Yumi Bai of Singaporean pop duo BY2 was accused of having been one of Wang’s affair partners, as was married Taiwanese singer Vivian Hsu, though both women have denied the allegations. Although Wang’s clothing brand, Descendants of the Dragon, is still running (albeit dropped from many e-commerce platforms), his endorsement deals have been dropped by brands like red-hot coal.
Weiya’s tax evasion
Another superstar to be ending the year on a downer: Huang Wei, better known as Weiya, was one of the most successful e-commerce livestreamers in China—Western newspapers often sum up her sales skills by saying she once sold a rocket through an online broadcast, and that she draws more viewers in one day than the finales of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and The Bachelor combined.
But on December 20, China’s State Taxation Administration announced (as part of their ongoing investigation of the unpaid taxes of many internet celebrities) it has found Weiya guilty of tax evasion—to the tune of 643 million RMB (100 million USD). She was ordered to pay a fine of 1.34 billion RMB in back taxes and late fees, and any late payments would lead to criminal investigations. It’s the largest fine ever to be imposed on a livestreamer, according to the Global Times.
Although Weiya apologized on her Weibo account, at the time of writing, that account, along with her channels on Douyin and Taobao, are suspended.
Reversal of the Huo Zun Scandal
There’s an important update to the Huo Zun scandal, which we reported on back in September. Quick rewind: Singer Huo Zun was cancelled back in August, after damning allegations posted on Weibo by his former girlfriend, dancer Chen Lu, who claimed she gave up her career to be with him, but he'd cheated on her throughout their relationship.
But it appears there was more to it than a simple story of a woman’s just crusade against a good-for-nothing man. On December 23, Shanghai police told news outlets they had arrested Chen on suspicion of extortion and blackmail (she’s now released on bail pending a trial). In November, footage had leaked on Weibo showing Chen calmly sitting in Huo’s studio back in May (three months before she went public), demanding he take out a loan to pay her hush money. Presumably, Chen’s outburst of “sadness” came as a result of the two being unable to reach a deal. Leaked screenshots of a WeChat conversation between the two have also started circulating on Weibo, showing Chen asking Huo to pay her 9 million RMB (1.9 million USD) after the scandal broke. Chen’s original posts that started the drama have since disappeared from her Weibo account, though it’s unlikely Huo can get his career back—let’s just call this one a draw.