China

Why a celebrity divorce has Chinese social media buzzing

Chinese actor Wang Baoqiang (L) and his wife Ma Rong pose on May 17, 2013 as they arrive for the screening of the film 'Tian Zhu Ding' Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Wang Baoqiang filed for divorce on Monday, a day after he announced online that he was firing his agent for allegedly having an affair with his wife

Move over Olympics, this celebrity split is now what everyone in China's talking about.

A Chinese actor's divorce from his wife, over her alleged extramarital affair, has social media buzzing, with posts about the subject gaining over five billion views.

Wang Baoqiang announced online on Sunday that he was divorcing his wife, Ma Rong, and sacking his agent, Song Zhe.

He alleged that his marriage broke down after his wife had an affair with his agent, and that she had also transferred the couple's joint assets.

Ma has hit back at Wang, accusing him of abandoning their family.

The topic has sparked a debate about relationships and divorce, and it seems Wang's predicament has struck a chord with many - which could explain the number of views, which are high even by Chinese standards.

How many people are talking about it?

The divorce quickly became a top trending topic in China. According to microblog Sina Weibo, posts with the hashtag #WangBaoQiangDivorce have been viewed over five billion times.

To put things into context, China's population is slightly over one billion.

Of course, many users will have clicked on the hashtag more than once, which accounts for some of the numbers - but, even taking this into account, few topics have created such a stir on Chinese social media.

Wang wrote on his weibo account: "Due to Ma Rong's improper extramarital sexual relations with my agent Song Zhe, which has severely hurt my marriage and destroyed my family, I have solemnly decided to dissolve my marriage with Ma Rong and release Song Zhe from his position."

Ma released a post shortly after, implying it was Wang who had abandoned their family.

She also threatened to sue Wang for damaging her reputation, insisting that he delete his post.

Image copyright Weibo
Image caption The affair was quickly made into a hashtag, which started trending across China

Wang has sought custody of their two children, and child support payments from his wife until they are 18, according to Chinese reports.

What exactly are they saying?

Chinese netizens seem to have rallied around Wang, with topics like #WangDontCry #WangWeSupportYou, quickly trending after news of the divorce spread.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The couple in happier times

Statistics by Weibo showed that 47% of netizens' posts condemned Ma for her affair, saying it had shattered her family. Some have even published her home address online.

"Wang is a hardworking man from a rural area. She cheated an honest man. I hate these kinds of people," said one commenter on weibo.


Who is Wang Baoqiang?

By Yashan Zhao, BBC Chinese

Wang Baoqiang, 32, is a household name in China.

He was born in a village in China's Hebei province and began to learn martial arts since the age of six. He was not highly educated but managed to play small roles in Beijing with different movie or TV production teams.

His screen image is portrayed as naive, innocent, sincere and encouraging. He was a nobody until 2004 when he starred in the film, A World Without Thieves.

Ma Rong, his ex-wife, has a low profile compared to Wang Baoqiang. Millions of Chinese may not have known who she was before details of the divorce emerged.

Unlike politics, where it may be risky to comment, Wang's case is one almost everyone can have their say on social media - and many have clearly done.


But why are they so interested?

No other celebrity divorce or marriage has ever caused such a big stir on Chinese social media.

On the surface, this might seem like just another Chinese celebrity split. But what is it about this one that's got all of China ruffled up?

Some people feel that this divorce seems to fit a certain trope - of a beautiful but ordinary girl marrying a rich but less good-looking man.

It is not uncommon to hear the belief that a couple has to "match" at every level - be it in status, or physical appearance - for a relationship to work out.

An ancient Chinese classical novel even warned against unmatched marriages.

In the novel Water Margin, Pan Jinlian, a beautiful money-loving wife, cheats on her husband Wu Dalang, who is relatively more unattractive. She eventually kills him.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The concept of "marrying up" is one that is still prevalent in China

"The concept of being evenly matched is still one that is widely believed in China," Dr Mu Zheng, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore told the BBC's Yvette Tan.

"However, there is also the convention for women to 'marry up' to more socioeconomically established men."

Wang and Ma's split has many people wondering if uneven matches are unlikely to succeed.

"If we look at this story, it seems like an ordinary girl marrying up to a famous and rich husband, which to a large extent is true. But if we look more closely, the husband in this case comes from a rural family, he did not have much education and his physical appearance is not very attractive. So to the husband, the wife is like a realised dream for him," Dr Mu says.

It's also making people talk about divorce

A lot of social media discussion has also centred around divorce, and in particular how people can protect themselves.

Wang has alleged that his wife transferred and hid some of the couple's assets. They're a wealthy couple - their assets, according to Chinese media, include nine flats, a BMW car and various luxury goods.

As a result, people are debating the importance of protecting individual assets, even after marriage.

Attitudes towards divorce are fast changing in China, and divorce rates are on the rise.

State newspaper Global Times says a total of 3.84 million couples in China divorced in 2015, an increase of 5.6% from 2014.

"People are getting much more open to the idea of divorce now, especially as Chinese people become more educated and open-minded towards both marriage and divorce," says Dr Mu.

"However, there is still some stigma attached to divorce, especially for women. The idea that the husband should be the main bread-winner and the wife should take care of the family is still the mainstream."

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