In 2012, it made international headlines when the then 24-year-old Chinese popstar Zhang Muyi publicly declared his love for 12-year-old Canada-born model Miki Akama.
The two met when Zhang Muyi was hired to be Miki’s music coach when she was only 8 years old. In 2012, Muyi wrote on Weibo that he “simply couldn’t wait” for Miki’s next four birthdays to pass, saying he was “counting down each one.”
At the time, the 12-year-old Miki, whose mother is Chinese/German and whose father is Japanese, had already built up a fanbase of 500,000 followers on Weibo. She replied to Zhang, saying: “Wait until I’m old enough to marry you, and then I’m going to say “I do”.’
Six years later, the now 30-year-old Zhang Muyi (@张木易, 1.4 million followers on Weibo), and the 17-year-old Miki Akama (@张千巽, 1.8 million Weibo fans) have announced their wedding through social media.
On April 4, Zhang wrote on Weibo: “You’ve made me see the most beautiful picture in this world,” adding a photo of a wedding dress. Miki responded to the post, writing: “You make me as beautiful as I can be.”
He later added: “We are indeed preparing for our wedding in all kinds of ways. On September 11, 2018, Miki will turn 18, and it will be ten years since we first met.”
The wedding announcement prompted a wave of reactions. Within 48 hours after the post, Zhang’s photo had received 23,800 responses and nearly 18,000 shares. The couple became one of the most-searched hot topics on social media in China on April 6, and the hashtag “Zhang Muyi and Miki Akama Getting Married” (#张木易张千巽结婚#) received more than 85 million views by Friday.
Although there are many netizens who wish the couple a happy life and find their story romantic, there are also many opponents who think the base of the couple’s relationship is unhealthy.
“In most parts of the world, it is hard to give blessing to a relationship between a teacher and their student. The fundamental reason for this is that there is an unequal power relation between teachers and students, which makes it difficult to speak of an equal and truly harmonious connection between two people. Let alone if one of the two persons is underage; this further intensifies the unequal relationship in terms of knowledge and experience. Let’s not even focus on whether or not this is pedophilia.”
“We should discuss this from the angle of pedophilia,” one netizen responds: “Because even though it is now disguised as ‘romantic love’, its base still essentially is the relationship between an adult and an 8-year-old girl.”
Many others also say that this a “white-washing of pedophilia,” with some expressing that it makes them “feel like vomiting.”
In response to the controversy, Miki addressed their engagement on Weibo in a lengthy blog post.
In her statement, Miki expresses the shock at the negativity surrounding their wedding engagement, saying that people are “turning this story into something they want it to be,” and that they are downgrading her to a “brainless girl” who has been “living in the dark” all her life.
“I do want to correct something,” she writes:
“There are people who are changing our story and are using the fact that I was 8 years old [when we met], and in doing so, are harming us and our loved ones. In their articles, they are deleting the part that really matters: When I was 8, I met Muyi and he was my music teacher; teaching me how to sing and teaching me self-confidence. By the time I was 12, my parents had let me read many books and see many movies, and I had a good education at school. Many of my friends with the same age as me had started reaching puberty and I also started to think about who I liked. I could talk to Muyi about everything. He said that when I would reach the age of dating, he would help me check them out. At the time I did not understand what it meant, and he said he would not let me date bad guys, because it is very easy for people to get hurt. Looking back now, Muyi was also still young at that time, so I told him that if he did not want me to get hurt in the future, he should just marry me. At the time we were just joking around, like playing house. With that uncomplicated promise, I grew up with him by my side. Of course, we will stay pure until marriage.”
Regardless of Miki’s statement, many netizens still hold their own opinions about the matter. Some compare Zhang and Miki to the case of the Taiwan lyricist Li Kuncheng (李坤城) and his wife Lin Jingen (林靖恩, 1996).
The couple became a big topic of discussion in 2015, when the then 58-year-old Li tied the knot with the then 18-year-old Lin.
About Zhang and Miki, one commenter writes: “I don’t think this is as serious as pedophilia. The goal of pedophilia is unpure [sex], but they have been together a long time. Zhang has no evil intentions.”
Still, many people express their worries about the situation, wondering “where the parents are” in this, and saying that they do not want their own children to be influenced by this.
By now, some experts and KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) have also gotten involved in the matter. While influential Nanjing police officer Wang Haiding (王海丁, @江宁婆婆) condemns the relationship, famous Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe (@李银河) says it does not meet the criteria of pedophilia.
“The three principles of sex that I have proposed are that it is is voluntary, between adults, and in private. If it is in line with these three principles, it is not punishable by law. The law can punish adults who have sex with girls under the age of 14, but if they wait with having sex until they are both adults, then the law cannot control them. (..) Pedophiles are people who sexually assault children. This is clearly not the case here.”
Amidst all controversy and analyses, many netizens just jokingly say: “I’m also ready to meet my future spouse – too bad they’re still in kindergarten.”
UPDATE – see our latest video about this topic here:
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Zhai Tianlin’s Alleged Plagiarism Triggers Discussions on Academic Cheating in Chinese Universities
“Colleges and Universities face great corruption problems, that is what you should be looking into.”
Earlier this month, Chinese actor Zhai Tianlin (翟天临) drew the public’s attention for his appearance at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, where he starred as a police officer preventing his parents from being scammed. Now, Zhai, again, is at the center of attention: not for his acting skills, but for allegedly committing academic fraud.
The famous actor is a Beijing Film Academy Ph.D. graduate and postdoctoral candidate at Peking University, one of China’s most renowned universities.
His alleged academic misconduct has been a topic of discussion for some days now. During a live broadcast with fans, Zhai apparently said he did not know what CNKI (知网) is, an academic database that all scholars in China will be familiar with.
It led to suspicions on Zhai’s academic standing, and people on the Quora-like Q&A platform Zhihu accused Zhai of not publishing any academic papers in recognized scholarly journals – something that is mandatory for Ph.D. students in China in order to fulfill their graduation requirements.
Zhai’s academic records increasingly became the focus of attention on February 9th, when one Weibo user (PITD亚洲虐待博士组织), a graduate student from Beijing, posted the results of a plagiarism detection test that was run on one of Zhai’s papers.
The test result revealed that of the 2783 words used in the paper, that was published last year, 1482 words were copied from other texts, indicating a 40.4% similarity score.
After the Beijing Film Academy released a statement that they would be investigating Zhai Tianlin, state media outlet China Daily posted a message on their Weibo account, stating that “academic standards must be the same for everyone” and that “postdoctoral researchers are a university’s greatest honor, ” and that “who wants to carry the crown should also carry the weight.”
On that same day, Peking University also published a statement saying that they are investigating the incident.
Zhai Tianlin (1987), who is also known as Ronald Zhai, is most known for starring in various popular Chinese TV shows and dramas, such as White Deer Plain and The Advisors Alliance.
The plagiarism allegation case has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media this week. The hashtag “Peking University Responds to Zhai Tianlin Case” (#北大回应翟天临事件#) has been viewed a staggering 650 million times on Weibo at time of writing, while the hashtag “Beijing Film Academy Sets Up Zhai Tianlin Investigation Team” (#北电成立翟天临事件调查组#) received more than 490 million views.
The storm is not likely to blow over soon, as new reports now also allege that Zhai’s MA-thesis relies heavily on the scholarly work of Chen Kun, a famous Chinese actor who also attended the Beijing Film Academy.
Although the scandal has triggered countless reactions condemning Zhai, there are also many people on social media who are directing their anger towards the universities and state media, with one typical comment saying: “By solely focusing on Zhai, you are avoiding the real problem. Colleges and universities face great corruption problems, that is what you should be looking into.”
Another person wrote: “I feel like the public opinion is focused too much on this case of ‘academic misconduct.’ What the media should be investigating is: why was the paper not checked for plagiarism before its publication? What the Beijing Film Academy should be looking into is how somebody can graduate with a paper that is not up to standard? And how someone who clearly doesn’t hold the appropriate academic abilities has access to its programme.”
“Peking University and Beijing Film Academy are both responsible for this fraud. How could they ever enroll such a fraudulent person?!” others wrote.
Some commenters seem to have no trust in China’s academic standard, saying: “Are you telling me you [the universities] didn’t know about this when you admitted him? Now you are setting up investigation teams, but it is all just for show.”
Academic corruption in the Chinese educational context has been a well-known problem for years. As early as 2002, the Ministry of Education implemented various policies to combat academic misconduct, defining it as an act of academic dishonesty that is punishable, but the problem is still widespread (Kai 2012).
Some studies suggest that one of the factors that play a role in plagiarism in China relate to the fact that ‘plagiarism’ is something that is often defined in very general terms, with university handbooks nor policies clearly codifying instances of “appropriate and inappropriate source use” (Hu & Lei 2015, 236).
There are also many other factors at play, however, such as the pressure for doctorate students to publish their papers, and the phenomenon of “publishing cash incentives,” which would allegedly trigger more academic fraud.
On Chinese social media, many people express that they hope that the institutions involved will “set an example” for other universities and “be transparent” in the way they’ll handle Zhai in case he is found guilty of plagiarism.
Many also pointed out the irony in the fact that it was Zhai who played the police officer that prevented his parents from being scammed during the CCTV New Years’ Eve Gala.
“This is just all so embarrassing,” some write: “Now it looks like not just Zhai’s PhD status should be taken from him, but also his MA title.”
Others suggest that this whole scandal would make an excellent topic for another TV drama, starring Zhai Tianlin, doing what he does best: acting. Some voices suggest that people should wait for the investigations into Zhai’s work to be completed before condemning him. With the massive online attention for this case, it might not take too long for more facts to surface on the case. We’ll keep you updated.
Hu, Guangwei and Jun Lei. 2015. “Chinese University Students’ Perceptions of Plagiarism.” ETHICS & BEHAVIOR 25(3): 233–255.
Kai, Ren. 2012. “Fighting against Academic Corruption: A Critique of Recent Policy Developments in China.” Higher Education Policy (25): 19–38.
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Controversy over Chinese Singer Sun Nan Sending His Kids to an Unqualified “Traditional Culture School”
The parents might think it’s a good idea, but what about the children’s future?
When news came out that famous Chinese singer Sun Nan (孙楠) is sending his children to the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture that, among others, has “women’s virtues” in its curriculum, controversy erupted on Chinese social media this week. The hashtag “Sun Nan Sends His Kids to Unqualified School” (#孙楠孩子就读学校无办学资格#) has received more than 260 million views on Weibo at time of writing.
The controversy started over an interview with Sun Nan’s wife Pan Wei (潘蔚), who is currently promoting her new book The Art of Artless Life (素心映照).
In the interview with short video platform Yi Tiao (一条), Pan says that the family had decided to move from Beijing to Xuzhou some three years ago, living in a modest 700-yuan-per month (±$100) apartment in order to send their children to a local “traditional culture” school that was allegedly established 28 years ago.
In the interview, Pan stresses the importance of teaching children traditional Chinese cultural values such as filial piety, as she also specifically mentions the value of teaching girls about being “gentle and kind (through needles and threads)” for when they grow up to be wives and mothers.
The interview soon became a big topic of discussion online, where the school in question was identified as the ‘Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture‘ (华夏学宫) in Xuzhou, that is focused on teaching traditional Chinese culture to its students and has an annual fee for its junior programme of 100,000 yuan (±$15,000). As also featured in the interview, Pan Wei herself teaches needlework at the school.
The heated discussions on Chinese social media focused on the doubted academic qualification of the school and its teachers, as well as on the intentions of Pan and her husband to send the children to such an institute.
On January 23rd, various media reports disclosed that, according to the Education Department of Xuzhou, the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture indeed is not qualified as an official educational institution, and that graduates from this institution also cannot obtain verified certificates, nor participate in China’s National College Entrance Exams.
The courses that are taught at the school have specifically attracted the attention of online commenters. Besides needlework, which is only taught to girls, the school offers so-called “women’s virtue” classes and uses Di Zi Gui (弟子规, Standards for being a Good Pupil and Child) as its main textbook, which was written in the Qing dynasty and is arguably based on the teachings of Confucius.
It is not the first time Chinese “women’s virtue” classes receive criticism online for reinforcing gender sterotypes. In 2018, one “female virtue class” was ordered to shut down after it made headlines.
Sun Nan and Pan Wei got married in 2009 after they had both been married before. From their earlier marriages, Sun had one daughter and a son, and Pan had one daughter, who previously studied at an international school. In 2011, the couple had one daughter together.
Singer Sun Nan has been well-known for his Mando-pop songs for years. He released his first album in 1990 and has had a long-lasting career ever since, receiving various awards for his work as a musician. (You might also remember his performance at the 2016 CCTV Spring Gala, where he performed together with 540 dancing robots.)
On Weibo, many netizens express their idea of Pan Wei as an “evil stepmother” who would allegedly send her own biological daughter to a good school, while purposely enrolling her stepchildren into a school that lacks proper credentials. It even led to some Weibo users leaving comments on the social media account of Sun Nan’s ex-wife, Mai Hongmei (买红妹), asking her to “save” her children from their current predicament.
“Aren’t these children supposed to receive compulsory education?” some wonder, while others worry that the children have been victimized by an “evil cult.” Some even say it is “ruthless” to withhold children from a qualified education, potentially leaving them no chance to enroll in college later on in life.
There are also commenters and bloggers who note that Sun and Pan’s personal involvement in the school, and the reason for sending their children there, is driven by financial interests, suggesting that the couple might be eager to make money by jumping on the “traditional culture” trend.
The head of the Chung Hwa College of Traditional Culture has since denied that the couple owns any shares in the institute. The school’s home page, at time of writing, however, does actively promote Pan Wei’s latest book.
“This controversial issue actually has three sides to it,” one popular Weibo blogger explains, suggesting that (1) the fact that Pan’s own child is enrolled in a qualified school and her step-children are not, makes her look like a bad stepmother with ulterior motives; (2) it is up for debate to what extent parents can choose to send their children to special schools, withholding them from the basic academic education they will need later on in life; (3) it is questionable to what extent it is good for young children to learn about ‘women’s virtues’ and obedience, and one might wonder what motives lie behind sending one’s children to such a school.
For now, the Xuzhou Education Department has stated that they will further investigate the matter. According to Chinese law, children must attend primary and junior secondary school for at least nine years in total. Meanwhile, Sun Nan has not responded to the controversy on his official Weibo page yet.
Watch the video of the controversial interview with Pan (with English subtitles) here:
By Boyu Xiao and Manya Koetse
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