When she first burst onto the scene in late 2003 Zhang Yu was
unknown. Like an avenging angel she was armed with two audiotapes
she said were recordings of a famed director caught with his pants
Zhang says that in 2002 she'd asked another woman to have sex
with Huang Jianzhong as payment so she herself could be hired in
Huang's movies or television projects. Huang claimed he didn't
remember what happened that day because he was drunk.
That incident turned out to be a teaser as the tapes were
scratchy and the voices were hard to recognize.
The counter attack came in 2004 when Huang and two other
heavyweights wrote in an industry publication that Zhang Yu, in an
unscrupulous attempt to seek roles, had picked a fight with a
certain director's wife. Zhang claimed she had been raped by the
Zhang filed a defamation lawsuit early this year against the
three directors. In May the court announced the directors had made
remarks based on generally accepted social and moral standards and
they didn't constitute libel. Zhang appealed and the original
verdict was upheld.
In mid-November Zhang launched the biggest salvo by releasing
online some of the 20 videotapes she maintained were recordings of
her sexually bribing directors or casting directors. For the past
weeks she's been talking non-stop to the media about the "darkness
of China's entertainment industry" and said her intention was to
"use my overt shamelessness to expose their covert shamelessness."
CASTING COUCH OF SHAME
The most oft-repeated phrase for this sleazy story is "the
hidden rule" which Zhang asserts governs the casting of unknown
young actresses. Bluntly they've to offer sex to those in power,
usually the casting director, the director and the producer, in
order to get a chance to lift the lid on China's glitz and glamour.
Industry insiders, who are asked for comment, tend to deny the
existence of such a "rule." Some say they're not aware of it.
Manfred Wong, chairman of Hong Kong Film Awards Association,
acknowledges it but says only those who cannot gain roles through
"normal channels" would trade sex. "This is the most disgusting
incident of its kind," he adds.
Li Xiaolin, an official with China Filmmakers Association, goes
a step further. The "hidden rule" applied to all industries and
areas where one party needs to exchange something for another. But
when it happened in the celebrity-fraught business of entertainment
it was magnified as if the public was watching through a
Online feedback is split into roughly two camps. Those who
question the validity of Zhang's evidence or are shocked that
"revered artists" would stoop so low and those who aren't in the
least surprised by the dirty laundry they knew was hidden there all
MOTIVATION FOR FULL DISCLOSURE
Zhang Yu, 30, originally from a poor farming community in Hubei
Province, has always emphasized her motivation. She made the
scandal public to "uncover the hidden rule" and "challenging the
powers-that-be who exploit young women," those, who she says, have
suffered the same fate but prefer to keep silent. Perhaps to her
dismay she's not received much sympathy from the public.
Netizens generally jeer at her for her willingness to use her
body for a possible career breakthrough and they believe she has
personal motives for "breaking the rule."
For one thing there are little legal grounds for her stance as
what she purportedly did with the entertainment bigwigs was between
consenting adults. If anything she may have violated their privacy
when she divulged intimate details about their meetings without
their permission, say some legal analysts.
As for her motives Zhang has never really tried to cover that up
and act as a victim. She admits she bought into the scheme, at
first reluctantly, when it was repeatedly hinted that she'd to
offer something in exchange for soap opera roles. But when she
realized that many of them would renege on the promises she started
taping their "trading scenes" for "self-protection." In other words
she wasn't against the "hidden rule" but against those who didn't
When those who she threatened were not frightened she started
using the media and law as levers. However, her fame or rather
notoriety, came at a hefty price. Nobody would hire her as an
actress anymore. Industry insiders call her "crazy for the
spotlight" or simply "crazy."
Crazy or calculated she's timed her latest move to publicize her
soon-to-be published memoir, said one newspaper report. Although
many people don't feel sorry for her they support what she's
done in slinging mud at the industry.
Zeng Zihang, a television producer, calls Zhang a "suicide
bomber" who threw herself into the fortress of a male-dominated
"She may not have demolished the fortress but even the cracks
she caused have revealed a seamy side of unmitigated desire and
corruption and some truth about the naked barter between power and
sex," he said.
Zhang was no longer a helpless victim when she opted to join the
game. But she, like the countless young women who dream of being
stars, is obviously at a disadvantage in such a rigged game. The
benefits they ask for in return are not contractually protected.
Her self-implosion has the benefit of reminding innocent people of
the pervasive risks in a business as enticing as a siren's song.
"Why should a woman suffer in silence and accept all the unfair
treatment?" Zhang asks in her blog statement. Despite a tainted
image that is far from an ideal avatar of feminism she's used her
own over-ambitious path to infamy to shed light on a ubiquitous
practice. It's a taboo topic…the shady deals between men in power
and women at their mercy.
Zhang asked for a 2,000 yuan (US$247) fee from a website that
wanted her to make an appearance. Her request was denied. The
website doesn't, as a rule, pay its guests to appear on its video
productions. Her demand for 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) to appear at a
commercial event was also rejected as "laughable."
This anecdote shows that Zhang is having a hard time profiting
from her exposure. The only people to benefit from the scandal are
a bunch of websites that posted her sex-for-trade video clips.
Websites like Sina launched Olympian campaigns to promote and cover
the story and registered hundreds of millions of clicks from online
Many analysts say that the unprincipled hyping of the story is
the major reason it has been blown out of all proportion. And
websites, which now lead the print media in this type of coverage,
"have completely lost their sense of social responsibility," says
Wang Xiao-feng, a cultural critic at Sanlian Life Weekly. "Their
commercial success is achieved at the cost of ruining a public
However, the lack of journalistic ethics isn't on the minds of
those enjoying the media frenzy, who tend to view the
ready-to-expose Zhang Yu vs I-don't-give-a-damn Big Director, as a
spectacle of entertainment.
In fact one pundit simply calls Zhang, with only a handful of
walk-on roles in her resume, "director of this year's biggest
"Zhang Yu has already segued into the most watched female lead,
albeit only in her homemade pornographic movie," observes Zeng
Zihang. "And at the same time she's reduced the Big Director to the
status of her male lead."
(CRI November 23, 2006)