China Superstar Wang Leehom Steps Away From the Spotlight, Faces Ban After Public Divorce
Taiwanese American pop star and actor Wang Leehom has apologized to his family and fans and said he will take a break from his career after a high-profile social media dispute with his ex-wife, who accused him of infidelity and hiring prostitutes.
But a break may not be enough to satisfy mainland Chinese authorities, who have recently been championing the need for celebrities to act as proper role models in society.
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U.S.-born Wang is one of the Chinese-speaking world’s top pop stars, and has had acting roles in numerous films as well, including Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” 2009’s “Little Big Soldier” opposite Jackie Chan, and 2015’s “Blackhat” alongside Chris Hemsworth. In 2019, he was given the Asia Society’s Game Changer Award.
“I didn’t manage my marriage properly, caused trouble for my family, and didn’t give the public the image an idol should have — all of it’s my fault,” he wrote in a statement posted to his official Weibo account, offering his “solemn apologies.”
“The more I think about it, men should still take all the responsibility – I will no longer give any explanations or defenses,” he added. “Since we’re already divorced, arguing about the past is meaningless. From today forward, I will pay attention to my own words and actions, and take on the responsibilities of a father, son and public figure.
“I am prepared to quit work temporarily to make time to spend with my parents and children and make up for the damage caused by this storm.”
Last week, Wang confirmed on social media that he had formally split with his ex-wife Lee Jinglei. The Taiwan News estimated the value of the assets and alimony she will receive in the divorce to be around $40 million, about a third of the singer’s wealth.
The case has drawn particular attention because of Wang’s previously clean-cut image, which conflicts with the accusations slung at him on Friday in a long social media diatribe by his former wife of eight years.
In its wake, brands including Japanese auto manufacturer Infiniti, Chinese electronic learning product manufacturer Readboy, and Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Seng Jewellery ended partnerships with Wang.
At a time when Chinese officials are trumpeting the need for celebrities to act as strong societal role models, Chinese authorities and local media like the nationalist state-backed tabloid the Global Times have intimated that a temporary hiatus for Wang “may not be enough.”
In a Monday op-ed, the paper condemned high-profile stars who used their status to overstep “legal and moral boundaries,” making the entertainment sector appear to be a “black hole in social morality.” It also criticized diehard fans for defending Wang in light of his alleged behavior, worrying that his example would “lead young people’s bright, healthy lives astray.”
On his personal Weibo, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said: “At present, the wife’s accusations have proven a fatal blow to Wang Leehom’s persona. Unless he can provide evidence to the contrary and reverse things, his comfortable presence in the mainland performing arts market is basically over.”
Even more consequential was an admonishment from the Chinese Communist Party’s highest disciplinary body, the Central Committee of Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI), that appeared to be directed at Wang. “The recent case of the collapse of a celebrity’s image has once again proven that the words and actions of public figures receive a lot of attention and their actions impact society,” it said in a statement.
Last month, dozens of online influencers and three celebrities were blacklisted by the China Association of Performing Arts for “generating negative social impact.”
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