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China Arts & Entertainment

Old Teacher-Student Traditions in Modern Times: The Fight Between Guo Degang & Cao Yunjin

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The recent public falling-out between famous Chinese comic dialogue actors Guo Degang and his pupil Cao Yunjin has got Chinese netizens talking about traditional teacher-student relations in modern-day China.

Recently, the argument between two famous comic dialogue (xiangsheng) actors Guo Degang (@郭德纲) and his student Cao Yunjin (@曹云金) has drawn much attention on Chinese social media. The 30-year-old Cao accused his 43-year-old teacher of exploiting him while serving an apprenticeship.

aaaCao Yunjin and his teacher Guo Degang.

Guo Degang is one of China’s richest celebrities and biggest ‘crosstalk’ star. Xiangsheng (相声) or crosstalk is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns.

On August 31, Guo accused two of his students, Cao Yunjin and He Yunwei, of disobeying and betraying him as their teacher. Guo also announced that he would “cleanse his courtyard” and expel the two “astonishingly shameless students” from his xiangsheng school. He even accused Cao of “betraying his teacher for gold”.

 

“Students were hindered in personal growth because of the devoutness and loyalty that was expected of them.”

 

Five days after Guo’s announcement, his former student Cao Yunjin responded that Guo should not “morally kidnap” his students, but instead give them more freedom to pursue their personal careers. It soon became clear that teacher Guo had a very different perspective on his student’s future than the students themselves.

In an article published on Sina Weibo, Cao writes that as a student of Guo, he was paid only a small portion of his performing income. He also accused him of unfair demands in doing housework and sharing the rent.

He further claimed that his personal further development was hindered by his teacher. Although he also expressed his respect and gratitude to Guo, he said that students were hindered in personal growth because of the devoutness and loyalty that was expected of them.

On Sina Weibo, the hashtag “#Guo Degang Cleans Out His Courtyard” (#郭德纲清理门户) attracted 490 million views within a few days.

 

“Who is a master one day, will be a father for always.”

 

Apart from Guo and Cao’s popularity as Xiangsheng actors, the breach between the two mainly drew wide attention because it brings traditional ideas about the teacher-student relationship in modern society up for discussion.

Similar to apprenticeship in Europe, many trades in China are transmitted to younger generations through individual or small scale teaching. In China, this holds especially true for the business of art and entertainment. Famous Peking Opera actor Mei Lanfang (梅兰芳), for example, had many students under his own opera “Mei School” (梅派).

meilanfangOpera actor Mei Lanfang was both a performer and a teacher.

One Chinese expression says that “who is a master one day, will be a father for always,” (一日为师,终身为父) – it is emblematic for how Chinese teacher-student were traditionally perceived to also involve some sort of filial piety.

Not only is a student often considered a part of the family, his role also entails moral obligations towards the teacher; respect him, obey him, and fulfil a son’s duty towards him. Traditionally, honoring the teacher was seen as a dominant aspect within apprenticeship.

 

“Even your own son will rebel if you control and supress him too much.”

 

It is within the context of this kind of traditional intimate teacher-student relationship that Guo accused his student of failing moral obligations. But for Cao Yunjin, who was born in the post-1980s, his relation with Guo was more professional, and simply entailed learning a trade to establish a future career.

In his blog, Cao mentioned that one of the reasons for the conflict between him and his teacher was that he was trying to find a middle ground with Guo, as he made him act in of two of his films with little or no payment. “Honestly,” Cao writes: “I don’t even know how I can survive if I don’t have income.”

He also said he wanted to develop his own career “and give a better life to my mother”, but claimed this was seen as “betrayal” by Guo.

On Weibo, many netizens support Cao. In a survey under the hashtag #郭德纲清理门户, 52.3% of the 230,000 participants sympathise with Cao. These netizens argue that teacher-student relations should adjust to modern society, and place more emphasis on individual interests and encouraging independence.

“It is true that a one-day teacher is a lifetime father”, writes one netizen, “but even your own son will rebel if you control and suppress him too much”.

“Kidnapping people with morality is immoral in itself”, another netizen writes: “And don’t forget that Cao did pay tuition. Guo is just a teacher, nothing more”.

 

“A country has its laws and a family has its rules.”

 

But there are also people who defend the traditional teacher-student relationship. Many argue that Cao owes his career completely to Guo, and that he should be grateful for that: “A country has its laws and a family has its rules”, says one netizen, “These rules may be outdated, but you should obey them all the same since you joined the trade on your own will.”

No matter who gets more support, Guo and Cao’s split brings forward a dilemma of China’s modern-day xiangsheng industry: teachers may want to preserve the traditional filial responsibilities of students; but the students, often from a younger generation, expect a business-like contract with their teacher.

The Guo-Cao affair might be an indication that in a rapidly modernising China, it is only a matter of time before more cracks will start appearing in the performing art’s old tradition of honoring the teacher as the dominant factor in education.

-By Diandian Guo, edited by Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Memes & Viral

Dutch Vlogger Discovers Her Boyfriend’s Photo on a Chinese TV Drama

Dutch vlogger Rianne Meijer was surprised to discover her boyfriend being somebody else’s lover in this Chinese television drama.

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The Dutch influencer Rianne Meijer has gone viral in the Netherlands and on Chinese social media after she posted a TikTok video in which she shared the discovery of her boyfriend’s photo in a Chinese TV drama.

“Remember this picture? This is a picture that I posted with my boyfriend a while ago,” Rianne says in the TikTok video, then showing a scene in Chinese TV drama in which a photoshopped photo of Rianne’s boyfriend is featured.

Although Rianne stood next to her boyfriend in the original photo, her face was replaced in the photoshopped edition featured on the Chinese TV drama.

“They look good together, it’s fine!” Rianne jokingly responded to the scene.

Rianne Meijer is an online influencer and YouTuber with some 1.5 million fans on her Instagram. She is known for often posting funny videos and photos, sometimes together with her boyfriend Roy.

The scene featuring Roy’s photo comes from the Chinese TV drama Summer Again (薄荷之夏), which premiered on iQiyi in the summer of 2021.

The scene shows a lady named Mi Ya (played by actress Li Borong 李柏蓉) talking about her relationship with a man named ‘Andre.’

On the Chinese social media site Weibo, many netizens found the incident “embarrassing” and did not understand why the staff would just steal someone’s portrait: “Couldn’t the production team even find a foreign guy to take a picture?”

Others also thought the incident was very funny: “This is the reality of our global village. You’d think nobody would find out, but it’s really not so secret.”

According to Rianne’s most recent Tiktok post update, the show’s production staff has since sent her an apology. She also writes it’s “all good,” adding: “They are so sweet and this gave us a good laugh.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Musician Song Dongye Canceled (Again) after Complaining about China’s Cancel Culture

Song Dongye was shut down by Weibo after airing his grievances at being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

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Five years after being caught with drugs, Chinese singer Song Dongye went on Weibo to share his grievances on still being ‘canceled’ and asking for another chance to restart his career. Instead, he got criticized and blocked.

Chinese folk singer Song Dongye (宋冬野) has become a major topic on Chinese social media site Weibo this week after he posted a lengthy statement on his account airing his grievances regarding how he was shut out from China’s entertainment world after being caught with drugs.

In Song’s Weibo post of October 11 titled “I Need to Say Something” (“我需要说一些话”), the singer complained that one of his performances was canceled and that he has not been able to perform since he was detained for drug use five years ago.

The Beijing singer was scheduled to hold a concert in Chengdu on October 16th, but local authorities eventually canceled the show after receiving reports about Song being a drug addict.

According to Song, it is not the first time that one of his concerts is suddenly canceled for no apparent reason. In his post, the Beijing artist shared how disappointed he is that yet another performance was called off, even though it was previously approved and was organized in compliance with all strict regulations.

It seems that Song Dongye just cannot get rid of his tainted reputation.

Song Dongye

The 34-year-old Song Dongye started his career as a musician in 2009 and signed with the Modern Sky record label in 2012. One of his biggest hits is the 2013 song ‘Miss Dong’ (董小姐) (link), after which Song’s career further flourished.

Things went sour in 2016, when Song was arrested for smoking marijuana in Beijing after someone allegedly tipped off the police. Not long after news on his arrest made the rounds, Song himself posted a statement on his Weibo account on October 25th of 2016, apologizing to everyone for violating the law and promising to better himself.

Song is not the first Chinese celebrity to have been caught with drugs. There is an entire list of celebrities who were caught doing drugs, especially in the 2014-2016 years – including names such as Jaycee Chan, Kai Ko, and Zhang Mo.

In Song’s most recent Weibo post, the solo artist explains how his former drug abuse deeply affected him and his family, and that he has never touched drugs again since his ten-day prison sentence five years ago in 2016.

Song Donye’s lengthy Weibo post of October 11, in which he shared his grievances regarding still being ‘canceled’ five years after being arrested for drug use.

Despite the fact that Song complied with court orders and became an anti-drug advocate, he apparently is still not able to perform – even though the prescribed three-year ban on performing (in accordance with regulations provided by the Ministry of Culture) has officially ended two years ago.

The musician writes that he feels wronged. As a former drug abuser, he feels it was right for him to be punished, but he also says that drug users are actually the victims, claiming that drug trafficking is the real crime. Song argues that it is very difficult to be in the entertainment industry and that it is not easy to say no to drugs when you are down, depressed, and pressured.

In his Weibo post, the artist actually suggests he has been victimized in two ways: firstly, as a depressed artist lured into taking drugs, and second, as a canceled celebrity who keeps on being shut out from China’s entertainment circles.

“I can’t understand it, I’m confused,” Song writes: “I’ve violated the law, but I’ve been punished! I’ve been detained and then I also received five years of verbal abuse! I’ve been educated! I understand! I never messed up again! I got up again, and I changed! I became a better person! Is that still not enough for me to be able to make a living? Why? I’m not doing anything but playing some small offline gigs in order to get by! I’m just a singer-songwriter! What else do you want me to do? (..) Shouldn’t society give people who have broken the law another chance?”

Song concludes his post by saying that, regardless of the challenges he is facing, he will not give up on his work.

Song’s Post Backfires

Soon after Song Dongye posted his short essay on Weibo, thousands of reactions started flooding in. Many netizens did not feel sorry for the artist, but instead blamed him for “playing the victim.”

The issue triggered a major discussion on Chinese social media on whether or not artists with a bad reputation should be allowed back into the limelight.

A recent article by What’s on Weibo on 25 ‘tainted celebrities’ in China (25 ‘Tainted Celebrities’: What Happens When Chinese Entertainers Get Canceled?) shows that Chinese entertainers who previously got ‘canceled’ generally do not return to the big stage, either because they have simply fallen out of favor with most people or because they are being shunned and sidelined in the entertainment industry (or a combination of both).

Many people felt that Song Dongye was being a hypocrite, not just because they felt he was excusing his former drug use by saying drug traffickers are the real offenders, but also because Song allegedly did do multiple commercial shows over the past five years and has been actively setting up new businesses since his 2016 arrest.

For official media accounts, in the meantime, this apparently seemed to be a good moment to highlight their anti-drug informational posts.

State newspaper People’s Daily posted a series of photographs on October 12th featuring police officers who got injured while doing their work combating drug trafficking and drug use, stating that over thirty staff members of the law enforcement against drugs were killed since 2017.

The post’s message was clear: these Chinese officers in drug law enforcement were unable to get a second chance in life – why would Song, as a drug abuser, be allowed to get another chance to restart his career as a performer?

That idea resonated with many, who wrote: “We should have a zero-tolerance policy [towards drugs]. We can’t ever revive these police officers!”

Another image circulated on social media with the tagline “taking drugs and selling drugs is the same crime,” showing a musician offering money for drugs and a law enforcement officer being shot on the job (image below).

On that same day, Song’s Weibo account was temporarily suspended. The hashtag “Song Dongye’s Weibo Suspended” (#宋冬野微博被禁言#) received over 620 million views in the days following the ban.

Many people on Weibo share the view that those who chose to take illegal drugs for their own pleasure can never be a public figure again, earning money from commercial appearances.

Others wrote that Song should have never posted his essay at all since it only caused him to be labeled as a ‘tainted celebrity’ again, even though many people had already forgotten about his former drug use. They think that Song’s real problem hindering his future career now is not his 2016 offense, but his 2021 Weibo post.

Song Dongye’s post did not just affect him, it indirectly also affected other Chinese ‘tainted celebrities.’

A planned concert by Chinese singer Li Daimo (李代沫), a previous contestant of The Voice of China (中国好声音), was also canceled this week following the Song Dongye controversy.

Li Daimo continued his music career after his 2014 drug offense.

Li Daimo was arrested in 2014 for possession of drugs and was later sentenced to a fine and nine months in prison. After being released from prison, Li resumed his music career. Although his tainted past was still sometimes discussed on social media, he was one of the few artists who seemed to have made some sort of a comeback to the entertainment industry after such a major controversy.

The Song Dongye situation, however, also made people (and authorities) reflect on Li’s current career.

Over the past year, Chinese celebrities have become a target of authorities and state media have consistently been reporting on the importance of Chinese stars setting a good example for their fans.

But amid all controversy, there are also people who come to Song’s defense: “If an artist has been punished for three years, we should give people the opportunity to reappear. It might [even] be more beneficial to the anti-drug campaign.”

“I really like his songs,” one person wrote about Song: “But he did drugs, and I can’t forgive him for that.”

At this time, it is not clear when or if Song Dongye will be allowed to post on his Weibo account again. Although his Weibo page is still there, it currently says: “This account has temporarily been suspended for violating Weibo guidelines.” It is not clarified which specific guidelines Song violated with his post.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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