Guo Degang and China’s Weird Celebrity Standards

Guo Degang, if you don’t already know, is a famous Chinese xiangsheng comedian who has recently found himself embroiled in a bit of a scandal involving one of his students and a BTV reporter who the student punched for entering Guo’s home uninvited. Guo then made remarks during a show that caused more of a stir, calling his student “a national hero” and disparaging BTV.

The reporter in question, Zhou Wenfu, recorded the entire incident via a camera, and that clip has now been posted to the internet in its entirety:

For those who aren’t interested in watching all of it (it’s nearly an hour long), it very clearly shows Guo’s apprentice punching the BTV reporter. But it also shows the reporters entering Guo’s house apparently without permission — they do knock, but then immediately open the door and step inside. The reporters also lie repeatedly about whether or not they are filming, saying several times that they won’t record video even though their camera is recording the entire time.

Reactions on the internet have been mixed. Some, of course, are calling for Guo’s head on a platter, but others question how much he even had to do with the event. This blog post, for example, takes aim at the demands that Guo apologize with fierce satire. In a fake “apology letter” from Guo himself, the author writes,

With regards to who should apologize: When the event happened, I wasn’t there, the person who beat the reporter was a student of mine named Li. He has already apologized, so at first I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but later legal experts told me that I was the attacker’s master, and a public figure, and more importantly, the incident happened at my home, so I can’t avoid my own responsibility.

When put that way, I get it. Although my apprentice is already 18, so when he makes mistakes even his own father isn’t responsible for them, I guess that in China someone’s teacher has more responsibility for them than their parents. Otherwise, why would people always curse the parents and teachers when students have a problem? So, I should apologize.

When put that way, I also understand why they had to remove the governor of Shanxi over coal mining accidents, because the coal mine bosses are not public figures, but the governor is! After the first accident, fire the town mayor, then after the second fire the county leader, after the third fire the city’s mayor and after the fourth fire the governor! Although after the fifth and six accidents, I’m not sure who should be fired. So, my student isn’t a public figure, but I am, of course I should apologize. I expect if it happens again I won’t be able to apologize even if it want to, it will but up to a public figure of a higher authority than me. So I must treasure this opportunity.

Additionally, when it’s put that way, I understand why the Japanese have never been apologetic when we curse them even though they killed all those people in Nanjing. They must be thinking that Nanjing is in China; if something happens on China’s land then China must also accept half of the responsibility! Of course, whether or not the Japanese should apologize isn’t what I want to talk about here; it is I who should apologize.

Regarding who to apologize to: there was only one person, a reporter, who was beaten, but the public is very angry and there are all kinds of people denouncing me and trying to teach me what I should do. It looks like just apologizing to that reporter is not enough to ease the public’s wrath; therefore, I solemnly announce that I apologize to everyone from all walks of life in our society.

The post goes on from there, but you’ve probably gotten the general idea. If you can read Chinese, the rest of it is rather amusing.

Unsurprisingly, the scandal and Guo’s comments on it attracted a firestorm from the Chinese domestic media, who by and large took this as another attack on one of their own. While I’m not sure it’s the same as some other recent events, it’s easy to understand the attitude. Which leads, inevitably, to a lot of editorials that sound like this:

This incident should serve as a timely reminder for other celebrities to mind their manners. This may strike stars as unfair. After all, they may ask, why should they always have to behave better than ordinary folks? Why do luminaries have to come off as shiny and squeaky-clean all the time?

Well, simply because it comes with the territory. Stars benefit a lot from being publicly recognizable and popular, but they do have a certain responsibility to set a good example that their fans can follow unflinchingly.

I understand where this attitude comes from. Nor is it my intention to be an advocate for arrogant entertainment figures who use their status to gain things unfairly, or just to abuse others. However, if the past few years have shown us anything, it’s that even China’s “squeaky-clean” celebs aren’t, and regular celebrities are worse. The era of the celebrity as role model is dead — I suspect this happened right around the same time the 24-hour news cycle was born — and TMZ has been dancing on its grave for years now. China might as well give up. I suspect Lei Feng was the last perfect celebrity China will ever see. ((As a sidenote, looking for a link to Lei Feng led me in a roundabout way to this, an internet meme so old it predates my interest in China and, in fact, my owning a computer to watch it on. But it’s pretty entertaining, and obviously the song (from 1995) was quite popular, at least among Northeasterners. Mrs. ChinaGeeks, who was sitting on the floor playing Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor on my phone when I started playing the video, was able to sing along without even looking up.))

Moreover, while in Guo Degang’s case it seems like pretty much everyone involved is obnoxious and the actual problem isn’t that serious, this odd fixation on having perfect celebrities leads people astray when something real goes wrong, as I argued a few weeks ago in this piece in the Global Times.

Should celebrities be held to a higher standard than regular people? Should they really be held responsible when companies they represent make terrible, cancer-causing mistakes? I think that at least in the latter instance, we probably ought to forget about the celebrities entirely and focus on the actual issue. But feel free to convince me otherwise!

0 thoughts on “Guo Degang and China’s Weird Celebrity Standards”

  1. As a chinese, I really worried for current China’s Media env.
    If Guo Degang was punished this way, then I will say:”China will be over”. Obviously, The whole china’s media are going to wrong direction.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s