Though nothing has been confirmed yet, the rumor that Zhang Ziyi, China’s famous actress, is implicated in the case of Bo Xilai, China’s recently collapsed high official, has gone viral online.
It started with an article on boxun.com (博讯新闻网), an overseas Chinese website famous for its coverage of political news and human right abuses of China. On May 28, boxun.com reported that Zhang was being investigated for her sexual transactions with Bo Xilai, and was barred from travelling abroad.
Full of juicy details, the article claimed that Zhang first had sex with Bo’s close friend Xu Ming, head of Dalian Shide Group, in 2007, and was paid 6 million RMB in exchange. According to the article, Xu later introduced Zhang to Bo, who has since “met with” Zhang at least 10 times between 2007 and 2011. Zhang, on the other hand, has garnered a total of 700 million RMB from her “meetings” with numerous officials. The article added that she never paid any taxes for the large sum thanks to her high official friends.
The rumor, assuming it is a rumor, soon spread. On May 29, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily quoted boxun.com in an article which has since been deleted. While the actress herself (@稀土部队) tweeted about the weather in Guangzhou, implicitly referring to the news, her agency staffers (@透明的稀土) were far more outspoken.
Zhang is so outraged this time that she will resort to legal means and sue Apple Daily for defamation. An open letter from Zhang is posted on Weibo, together with an English-language letter from Hong Kong-based law firm Haldanes alleging “grave libel.”
Reactions on Weibo
Though rumor of Zhang’s sex deals with Bo already made its way into most major Chinese online forums, no direct link to Apple Daily’s report is given by Zhang’s staffers, nor is boxun.com accessible from Mainland China. It would thus seem that most Sina Weibo users don’t know of Zhang’s rumored implication in Bo Xilai’s case yet. But enthusiastic microbloggers who are in the know have still engaged in a lively discussion.
Many netizens find it hard to verify the news and choose to wait up till truth itself surfaces. Others who empathize more with Zhang (@香港在线, for example,) suggest that the actress, instead of suing Apple Daily for its libel, should simply hop on an international flight to prove Apple Daily wrong.
More netizens take a very cynical approach at the news. They have seen so many celebrity scandals these years that they are no longer surprised at Zhanag’s selling out. @伯纳乌V simply signed, “Zhang has the highest labeled price for actresses who prostitute themselves. 700 million RMB in ten years—see, now she’s in trouble!” @小玉乐乐 resorted to textual analysis: “Knowing her ability to express herself, her [literary] Weibo tweet was definitely written by someone else!” @龙井8 tweeted, “[Whether the news is] true or not, it’s not really important. What matters is that Miss Zhang’s going to charge even more in the future.” @北区青年 pointed out the iron theory of counter-defamation: “Rumors when denied vehemently will always prove to be true.”
Online speech is not dampened
Television host Yang Rui recently threatened to sue blogger Charlie Custer (editor of ChinaGeeks) for defamation after Custer demanded Yang be fired for anti-foreigner statements made on Weibo. Such a tete a tete could have sparked a fear of lawsuits among the general netizen populace, dampening online speech. But after the release of Zhang Ziyi’s open letter, netizens on Weibo demonstrated that they still feel free to tweet whatever they have in mind.