Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chinese art of reveling in another's pain

Chinese art of reveling in another's pain
I have always been a fan of Zhang Ziyi. She is beautiful, hardworking and talented. However, her reputation has been tarnished by a series of scandals which has unraveled in the public eye in the past six weeks. What we see is a real life drama of power, greed and sex that is in everyway as tantalizing as Dallas, and better.
I have always been curious about the German word schadenfreude which is such a perfect translation of a Chinese proverb - xing zai le huo (幸灾乐祸). Kind of funny how only the Germans and Chinese have been able to nail down that nasty sentiment in their respective languages. The fall of Zhang is nothing less than a schadenfreude fest for the press, the public and whoever it is that wants to see her fall.
It all started with "Ink Gate". Apparently, some goons showed up at the Park Hyatt residence in Beijing late last December and splashed black ink all over an OMEGA ad billboard which featured Zhang. This was a totally planned act, since someone actually notified the press beforehand so that the paparazzi could get the photos and spread the word around. As a result, it was all over the Chinese Internet. Speculation was rife as to who was behind Ink Gate.
As diligent entertainment reporters dug deeper and deeper, they came up with a Beijing socialite, a mistress with an illegitimate son of a certain "Mr Big", and a former confidant of the actress. As the rumors spread, a Miss Zhao actually came clean with the press, as the socialite with her version of the story.
According to Zhao, she introduced Zhang to a tycoon, who became obsessed with the actress and gave her 200 million yuan ($25 million) in jewels as gifts. Zhao claims the tycoon's upset wife was the one behind the ink splashing.
The rest was unsaid but perfectly understood.
The press bought her story hook, line and sinker. Without any verification, everyone printed the story as if it was the truth.
Another version claims that Wendy Deng, aka Mrs Murdoch, is the one behind Ink Gate. This version says that the actress actually caused a serious rift between Mr and Mrs M. Most people thought this story was pure speculation until news came out that Zhang will no longer co-produce with Mrs Murdoch or star in the film Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The official announcement, by the production team and the actress herself, seems to lend credibility to speculation of a serious spat between the two former girlfriends.
The Chinese press had a field day; Zhang's reputation in Hollywood has always received mixed reviews in China and earned her the nickname "International Zhang". Somehow, the Chinese public does not see her success as some kind of triumph of Chinese soft power, but rather, they see her as someone who drifted too far away from home.
The truth is Zhang was very close to both Zhao and Wendy Murdoch, and there are plenty of press photos to prove it. They are the beautiful, rich and famous girls that the public love to hate. So these scandals probably sold so many newspapers that it would have brought a smile to Murdoch's face, if only his wife was not in the mist of it all. The whole thing is some kind of Chinese real life replay of "gossip girl" + "dirt".
But last week, things turned ugly for Zhang. The press decided to bring her down by digging into her charity projects. There seem to be discrepancies of what she claimed to have donated and the actual amount transferred. There are also questions about overseas charity funds which supposedly never reached their designated projects. This has led to a campaign of public scrutiny of charity projects by entertainment stars in China. Now, criminal charges of fraud are flying in the air.
So, as China's best-known actress bites the dust, the press and public seem to be totally enjoying her demise. Schadenfreude - we so know how to do it, and do it well.
Huang Hung is an opinionator on arts, lifestyle and showbiz.

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