Major brands have cut ties with Canadian-Chinese musician Kris Wu after multiple allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him, including accusations that he plied underage girls with alcohol and assaulted them.
Mr. Wu denied the claims against him Monday, writing in a statement that he has never tried to take advantage of his fans or use alcohol to lure women for sex. If the allegations were true, he said, “I would take myself to jail!”
The scandal has sparked a wider discussion online about consent and sexual exploitation, appearing to breathe new life into China’s #MeToo movement, which has often failed to gain traction in the face of conservative attitudes and government censorship.
Under the hashtag “GirlsHelpGirls,” millions of messages have been posted in support of Mr. Wu’s accusers.
“We forever back you. Women should help women,” said one widely shared post, while others encouraged victims to “please speak up.” Some posts connected Mr. Wu’s case to wider issues of gender inequality in China, including previous #MeToo scandals and recent attempts by the government to cut down on the number of divorces, which critics say has trapped some women in abusive marriages.
Mr. Wu’s reckoning began when 19-year-old influencer Du Meizhu gave an interview to Chinese news portal NetEase on Sunday. Ms. Du said she met the pop star two years ago and was pressured by him and his agent into drinking alcohol to the point that she blacked out. When she woke up, she was in Mr. Wu’s bed.
More than two dozen other women have since come forward online to accuse Mr. Wu of similar misconduct, according to state media. Several of the accusers are teenagers. The legal age of consent to sexual activity in China is 14.
The Globe and Mail cannot independently confirm any of the allegations against Mr. Wu.
In his statement, Mr. Wu said he had only met Ms. Du once, at a friend’s party, where she was not drinking. He accused her of defaming him and said he would pursue legal action to defend his reputation.
The former member of K-pop group EXO, who spent part of his childhood in Vancouver, Mr. Wu is hugely popular in China, with multiple hit albums and more than 51 million followers on the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
According to Forbes China, Mr. Wu is among the highest-earning celebrities in China, but he has hemorrhaged endorsements in the wake of the accusations, with brands such as Porsche and Lancôme and state broadcaster China Central Television distancing themselves from him.
Ms. Du has attracted both abuse and support online. In a post on Weibo, she said she was receiving harassing phone calls and threats.
“I’m aware that my life is already ruined, although [Kris Wu] is the only man I’ve slept with, the public already think I’m an easy woman,” she wrote on social media, adding that, although “my life is over,” she did not regret coming forward.
Among the other women speaking up about their interactions with Mr. Wu., Zhang Dansan, a member of the girl group SNH48, posted screenshots of a purported online chat in which Mr. Wu asked if she was a virgin. She said that while she “didn’t experience any real harm … it seems that not everyone is so lucky.
“I want to say to everyone that if a girl feels any offence or discomfort in a conversation or relationship, she should say no,” Ms. Zhang wrote on Weibo. “Don’t give in just because of who the other person is.”
China’s #MeToo movement has struggled in a country that is generally sexually conservative, where the police and courts are often unwilling to lay charges and prosecute for sex crimes and where online censorship and harassment of feminist organizers is common.
Li Sipan, a feminist activist and writer based in Guangzhou, said the swift reaction to the Kris Wu allegations shows that, over the years, a foundation of “solidarity and connection” has been built between women throughout China.
“More and more female social-media users have been paying attention to gender-based violence … and exploitation by men,” Ms. Li said, adding that the younger generation is more willing to discuss sex generally and speak publicly about topics that previously would have been considered taboo.
“The reaction we see today might be a result of this long-term evolution.”
One of the most prominent #MeToo cases in China is that of broadcaster Zhu Jun, who was accused of sexual misconduct by his former intern Zhou Xiaoxuan, also known as Xianzi.
A court in Beijing began a landmark hearing on the case last December, amid a heavy police presence. Xianzi’s day in court attracted widespread attention online and led many to hope it might lead to wider change, but the second hearing was called off without explanation in May, and the case seems to have stalled.
Ms. Li said that without prosecutions, the effect of #MeToo cases, even involving celebrities, will always be somewhat limited.
“[Mr. Wu’s] gigantic fan base enables this incident to grab a lot of public attention, but I’m not sure that anything tangible will necessarily result,” she said.
“If the Kris Wu case can go through the courts, it will fundamentally change the culture of chronic sexual abuse in the entertainment industry. And then we can say that something good has come out of it.”
With a report by Alexandra Li
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