It's not easy being a famous woman, especially in China. In a post that went viral yesterday on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, Chinese model and singer Lu Jing, who describes herself as possessing "the most beautiful natural breasts in China" was run through the proverbial ringer after posting an update in which she said she was going to volunteer to teach at a school for underprivileged youth in Shaanxi province. The post, translated below, was reposted over 25,000 times in less than 24 hours:
"Last month after I said I had been chosen as a lecturer for a school, many people on Weibo left comments mocking and even insulting me. At first I didn't want to say anything more about it, but my boyfriend said helping to teach the less fortunate is a good thing that we should raise awareness about. The school is in a poor, mountainous part of Shanbei. I hope that everyone will join in and help out with this charity work. As for those of you who want to throw me together with people like Teacher Aoi [Japanese adult film star Sora Aoi] and those unwritten rules [in the entertainment industry], now you've got pictures and proof, are you happy?"
Sora Aoi herself has been the object of similar attacks after breaking the same set of "unwritten rules." Last month, during the height of Sino-Japanese tensions over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Aoi tried to use her celebrity status to promote peace between the peoples of China and Japan on Weibo. For her trouble, in addition to being called a number of unsavory words, she was accused of playing the peacemaker in order to protect her own financial interests.
Lu fared no better. The vast majority of the more than 9,000 comments on Lu's post comprised vicious insults about Lu's appearance, her style of dress, her supposed promiscuity, and her Weibo "attention whoring." Some said she was ugly and disgusting, while others accused her of having had plastic surgery. One Weibo user said she looked like she was "selling meat" in the picture she posted. Another chided "If you didn't show so much cleavage, no one would berate you." An entitlement to judge and critique Lu's appearance and behavior was the unquestioned premise of almost all of these comments.
The online evisceration of Lu Jing is nothing unusual-in China or anywhere else, sadly-but the nature of her predicament does have some unique Chinese characteristics. Lu Jing makes her living by fitting into the Chinese image of what a woman should be: Young, thin, feminine and beautiful. She has been a car show model, commercial actress, and winner of numerous modeling competitions. On the other hand, she has had to dodge accusations that she became famous by sleeping her way to the top according to the "unwritten rules" of the entertainment industry; actress Zhang Ziyi has been the object of similar accusations. Many Chinese, believing the industry corrupt and competition fierce, suspect that celebrities and models may only become famous by finding favor with directors.
Chinese social norms and traditional views about appropriate women's behavior reinforce the idea that Lu should not be too sexual, too desirable. The profitability of the modeling and entertainment industry suggests that consumers are willing to pay to see sexualized women, but public discourse shows that they also want to shame them for doing so. Chinese society, which has been growing and changing at a breakneck pace, accommodates these conflicting demands without reconciling them. As a result, women often feel they must choose between money and love, relevance and acceptance. Judging by Lu Jing's implied jab at Sora Aoi, even Lu seems to think that sexuality and goodness are, at some level, incompatible.
Lu attempted to convince her followers that she fell on the "good" side of this dichotomy while Sora Aoi fell on the bad, she was not very successful. Weibo user @蘇三說__ remarked, "You're a nobody, and yet you still dare to compare yourself to Teacher Aoi? You're not even fit to help her with her shoes. She donated money after the earthquake, and what are you going to do, go breastfeed those children in the mountain passes?" Others noted that Lu Jing was not as successful as Sora Aoi, who has over 200 times as many fans on Weibo and an international following.
Many netizens questioned both Lu's and Aoi's motivations, but most did not question whether it was right, necessary, or appropriate to insult the women and demand that they conform to varied and conflicting expectations about what a woman should be. Lu Jing may end up getting some publicity from all of this, but what truly stole the show was the continued acceptability of slut-shaming in public discourse.
This article originally appeared on Tea Leaf Nation.