As with politics, it seems a week is a long time in Chinese celebrity – you only have ask Guo Degang. It’s unlikely he’ll get back to you though. He started off last week as a maverick people’s hero, the highest-paid xiangsheng (cross-talk) comedian in China and began this one as a virtual enemy of the people.
Things seemed to move so quickly against Guo, that by the time the smoke began to clear on who did what to whom, it already appeared to be too late for his career.
The official version is that a BTV investigation into whether Guo’s Beijing villa encroached onto “public green space” turned nasty when a reporter was allegedly beaten up by Li Hebiao, a protégé of Guo’s. The comedian himself then turned up the heat with an incendiary attack on the media during a show, calling hacks “whore-respondents” and “green-light” prostitutes. As the public spat intensified, events began to turn against Guo.
So the media, freshly emboldened from a recent – and justified – triumph over censorship, nobly took on a famous bully – and claimed another scalp.
In fact, it was more of an ugly and undignified witch-hunt: the cancellation of performances at Guo’s theatres, for example, was not a voluntary reaction to public pressure but rather a state-backed crackdown on Guo himself. The fact that Guo – whose earthy, populist reinvigoration of cross-talk culture has previously copped accusations of lewdness – ended up being caught up in the Hu Jintao-backed “Sān sú ‘Three Vulgarities’ campaign’ (which he had himself satirized) only increased public distaste when People’s Daily tried to depict this as an example of press freedom in China.
Now his books have been yanked from (most) shelves in Beijing and Tianjin (his hometown), his theatres have had their licenses revoked and he has been airbrushed from state television. How is this a paragon of freedom? And what on earth has the government got to do with a spat between him and some reporters?
Firstly, Guo himself did not hit anyone. Secondly, as the complete footage (which Guo obtained from a BTV mole) shows, the paparazzi-style journalists were intrusive and deceitful in the first place. Thirdly, Guo is a soft target and the media know it: market-driven tabloid journalism is one of the few “open” parts of the fourth estate – it sates the public appetite for iconoclastic reporting without ever coming close to damaging the Party.
By hounding Guo and crowing about it, these journalists seem to be the worst type – too craven to tackle real issues, and trying to claim vindictive tabloid tactics as righteous investigative journalism while cozying up to state approval yet again .
Not that Guo himself is without blame – he is an aloof figure (strangely, his agent, Wang Hai, still refuses to give any interviews, even to sympathetic media), has Frank Sinatra-style local “characters” as friends, and endorses bogus products. And it appears few lessons have been learned over at Guo’s compound.
Nevertheless, I’m in agreement with blogger Richard Burger’s description of “yet another case study of the excesses of the Chinese media, the group-think of the news manipulators, [and] the effect of the Chinese internet in increasing the decibel level”.
And to think that Xinhua seriously hopes to be the next AP.