Backlash widens for actress in surrogacy scandal

Prada dropped Zheng Shuang as its ambassador.
Prada dropped Zheng Shuang as its ambassador.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It is a scandal involving abandoned surrogate babies, a secret marriage, lucrative endorsement deals and even loan sharks.

At the centre of it is popular Chinese actress Zheng Shuang, 29, who has come under siege on social media this week.

Viewers may remember her from Meteor Shower, the 2009 Chinese remake of popular Taiwanese drama Meteor Garden (2001).

An audio recording from 2019 emerged on Monday, allegedly of her discussing with her former partner, producer Zhang Heng, 30, and their parents what to do with two unborn babies after their break-up.

The children's surrogate mothers, who were in the United States, were supposedly about seven months pregnant at the time.

Zhang and Zheng reportedly got married in secret in order to have the surrogate children and are embroiled in lawsuits relating to money.

Zhang, who was alleged to have borrowed from loan sharks, posted a photo on Monday on Weibo of him with two young children, implying that the actress had abandoned them in the US, where he had been for the past year.

He wrote that he and his family "must take care of and protect two young and innocent lives".

After the news broke, fans deserted the actress in droves, with fan sites deleting her content and one fan club president professing on Weibo that he is no longer her follower.

The scandal even caught the attention of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, a powerful organ of the Communist Party in China.

Without naming her, it posted on Weibo: "Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women's uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product.

It added: "As a Chinese citizen, the act of travelling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law."

China's state broadcaster CCTV also commented on Weibo that "surrogacy is banned in China because it overlooks life".

The backlash continued with brands dropping her like a hot potato. Italian fashion house Prada, which had signed a contract with Zheng last week, announced it would drop her as its ambassador on Tuesday.

Other brands, including London jewellery brand Lola Rose, Chinese cosmetics brand Chioture and hair care brand Aussie, have distanced themselves from her, while magazines such as Modern Weekly and the Chinese version of Harper's Bazaar deleted previous social media posts that promoted her.

The actress even had her past awards taken back from her.

The Huading Awards, a popular people's choice awards, announced it will renounce Zheng's "best actress in a modern TV series" award from 2016 and "top 10 favourite TV stars" award from 2014.

Netizens have bayed for blood, demanding she be cut from shows that she is scheduled to appear in, while show business insiders have confirmed that she has been put on an unofficial blacklist.

Zheng said on Weibo on Tuesday, without explicitly addressing the scandal: "It's a very sad and private matter for me."

She also implied that her former partner had ulterior motives and revealed that he had cheated on her in September 2019, which was why she had left the US.

She seemed to indirectly admit the children are hers at the end of the post, saying: "I needed help to figure out how to resolve the situation with the children."

It has been radio silence from her since then.

Yet, despite the scandal - or maybe because of it - her popular Weibo account has seen its follower count skyrocketing from about 11.2 million subscribers on Monday to about 12.5 million on Thursday.

That is more than one million new gossip-hungry followers, eagerly waiting for the besieged actress to break her silence on the whole affair.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2021, with the headline 'Backlash widens for actress in surrogacy scandal'. Subscribe