Celebrities face backlash over lifetime job offers

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Jackson Yee, singer and actor. [Photo/China Daily]

Chinese pop singer and actor Jackson Yee has given up a lifetime job offer from the National Theatre of China after widespread public outrage and criticism about celebrity privilege.

Yee, 22, posted a long message on his Sina Weibo account on Sunday, explaining the reason behind him applying for the job at the theater, saying the audition and interview were above board and that he will not take the job, hoping to ease the debate.

"There are lots of voices out there about me taking the job at the National Theatre of China recently, and first of all I want to apologize to those who care, support or criticize me," said Yee, adding that his late response was because of the fierce online debate that went beyond his reach.

"I always want to be a positive influence on people. However, people feel offended and unhappy because of me. The National Theatre of China, of which I have long been a fan, has also been affected, which is the last thing I want to see. After serious consideration, I decided to give up the job, but I will continue to study and improve myself in the theater," said Yee, who has nearly 90 million followers on Sina Weibo.

The controversy began on July 6 when the National Theatre of China released its annual admissions list for 2022.

Three young Chinese celebrities, headlined by Yee, were on the list.

As a national art institute of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the theater has a history dating back to 1941 and is known for producing and staging classic Chinese dramas, such as works adapted from Chinese literature and tales about the history and achievements of the country.

For Yee and the other two young Chinese actors, joining the theater would mean that they would receive a bianzhi´╝Źa government-funded post that can normally be extended for life and comes with a stable career with housing subsidies and other benefits.

People wondered if the three young actors had been treated differently during the application process because of their stardom. Competition for any jobs with bianzhi is always fierce, and many netizens expressed their doubts about the transparency of the hiring process for celebrities. They cited the fact that in the theater's recruitment notice it required "unemployed individuals".

"So, it's not just us ordinary people. A stable and regular job also looks pretty appealing to celebrities," said one Sina Weibo user.

"We just want fairness and transparency in the process. After all, it's difficult to get a job, especially a job with bianzhi," said another.

The other two young and famous actors to be admitted, Hu Xianxu and Luo Yizhou, both in their early 20s, were also caught up in the storm. All of them have acted in major movies and TV dramas and have large fan bases, and often appear in televised or online reality TV shows.

Yee is one of China's most popular celebrities. Rising to fame as a member of the boy band TFBoys as a teenage singer, he has since starred in Chinese movies such as the Oscar-nominated Better Days in 2019, the family drama A Little Red Flower in 2020 and the war epic The Battle at Lake Changjin in 2021.

Yee explained that he had to sit for three interviews and exams on April 14, April 25 and May 2, with the third moved online because of the coronavirus epidemic. He said the whole process was fair and had nothing to do with privilege.

He said applying to the National Theatre of China had always been his dream ever since he was a student at the Central Academy of Drama, where he studied from 2018 to 2022.

"Before graduation, I shared my dream of becoming an actor at the National Theatre of China with my teachers and classmates. I want to explore and improve at the theater, which is the top theater company in China," Yee said.

On Sunday, Hu, 22, who graduated from the same university as Yee, responded to the debate around his admission on Sina Weibo, shortly after Yee released his.

Hu has not given up the job, but he said that he will accept supervision from the public.

On Saturday, the National Theatre of China released a statement explaining the company's recruitment. It said that the total number of applicants this year was 590, with 447 people passing the exams. Based on the job applicants' scores, 10 people were finally admitted: seven actors and actresses, a director, a sound engineer and a costume designer.

The company responded to public concerns over whether the film stars were qualified candidates and if they were properly auditioned and interviewed.

"The process of recruiting new graduates is in accord with the theater's policy and requirement. The hiring process is open, fair and impartial," the company said in the statement.

It's not unusual for celebrities to have jobs at government-owned institutions in China. For example, the National Theatre of China announced that Chinese actress Guan Xiaotong had joined the company in 2021. In 2020, Chinese actor, Liu Haoran, was admitted into the China Coal Mine Art Troupe, which is also a government-supported art institution.

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