Chinese prince of pop Kris Wu's arrest in Beijing on rape accusations means the #MeToo movement may have finally come for East Asia's superstars
- Former K-pop idol Kris Wu was detained in Beijing on Saturday on accusations of rape.
- Several previous K-pop sexual misconduct scandals have ended with women being ordered to pay restitution to the accused.
- Wu's arrest signals it may finally be time for a reckoning among K-pop idols.
Kris Wu's star once shone brightly, but his name is poison now.
The world was first introduced to Wu in 2012, on a freezing day in Seoul. Wu - then 21, appeared in a promotional teaser for his upcoming debut with the K-pop band EXO. Wu was captured in an all-white outfit, soft brown hair blowing in the wind, arms outstretched to welcome the glimmer of the morning sun.
It wasn't long before EXO started appearing on variety shows in China, with the fresh-faced, doe-eyed Wu leading the band in these appearances. The group became one of the most successful and popular boy bands in South Korea and internationally, selling 1.8 million albums in their first year of promotion and performing sold-out gigs across Asia and the US. The band became Wu's springboard to stardom - until his dramatic and sudden exit from the group in 2014.
Nine years on, Wu, now 30, has become one of the biggest names in China and one of the country's princes of pop. If you haven't heard his music, a cross between R&B and Chinese-style hip-hop, you may have seen him starring alongside Vin Diesel in the action movie "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" and Cara Delevigne in Luc Besson's sci-fi flick "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." Wu could also be found sitting front row at fashion shows with Tyga, Migos, and Bella Hadid, playing in an NBA celebrity all-star game with Justin Bieber, and hopping on stage to spit bars with Travis Scott.
But on July 31, he was arrested in Beijing after more than 25 women accused him of sexual assault. Chinese state censors have scrubbed Wu's online presence clean from social media, and his wax figure has been removed from Madame Tussauds in Shanghai. The Chinese-Canadian rapper faces what could be a lengthy jail term if he's convicted of any crimes.
Wu's arrest means it might be 'Time's Up' for East Asia's bad boy megastars
Wu was marketed as the face of EXO's Chinese sub-group, EXO-M. Known as "gege" (or big brother) to his band members, he was cast as the upright, no-nonsense leader - until he quit the boyband in 2014, citing health issues and contractual disagreements with the group's management agency, SM Entertainment.
He pivoted to a new aesthetic, swapping the clean-cut look often adopted by Korean boy bands to make their members look innocent and virginal for flashy cars, gold chains, and baggy hip-hop streetwear.
His star continued to rise. He was named Forbes' 10th most influential Chinese celebrity in 2017. His 2018 solo album "Antares" knocked Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga off the US iTunes music charts and was platinum-certified in China.
Wu's problems began when 19-year-old student Du Meizhu accused him of coercing her into having sex with him by pressuring her to drink until she "lost consciousness" when she was 17. The accusations first emerged in early June, and then in late July, Du was interviewed by the Chinese media outlet NetEase. During the interview, Du accused Wu of paying her 500,000 Chinese Yuan ($77,000) in hush money to "keep quiet" about the incident.
Then more accusations rolled in - including disturbing allegations from minors who said Wu preyed on them. The scandal culminated in his arrest on Saturday on suspicion of rape. He has not yet been charged with any crimes but is being held by Beijing police in the city's Chaoyang district.
Wu denied the accusation via his now-deleted Weibo account, according to the Washington Post. "There were never any 'minors'!" he wrote on Weibo on Monday. "If this kind of thing happened, please rest assured that I will go by myself to jail!! I will take legal responsibility for my words above!!"
Insider has reached out to Wu for comment.
Wu's arrest may signal a shift in the landscape of how East Asian megastars are treated when bad behavior comes to light. The West is no stranger to powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby being brought to their knees by sexual harassment allegations.
Even the central committee of the Communist Youth League was moved to issue their own statement on Weibo. "What we are really concerned with isn't celebrity gossip, but about good and evil, beauty and ugliness in society, about fairness and justice in a society with rule of law," it said, per Variety.
State broadcaster CCTV echoed the CYL.
The case, they said, according to the Washington Post, "has escalated into something larger than celebrity gossip, into a legal case and public event with massive social impact, something that demands a comprehensive investigation and clarifications by relevant departments. This should be a lesson for us to think more calmly and decide what kind of person deserves the laurel of a 'star.' "
K-pop's shameful history of sexual misconduct
For years, K-pop stars were seemingly immune to accountability.
K-pop singer Seungri of Big Bang fame was known as the "Great Gatsby of South Korea" because of his hard-partying lifestyle and massive fêtes in Seoul's glitzy Gangnam district. He was first accused of sex trafficking women three years ago. Despite the accusation, he was able to enlist in the South Korean army. He was also allowed to take his case to a military court, avoiding a long-drawn and embarrassing public trial. The case is still in litigation. Several minor celebrities involved in the same scandal are serving jail terms of between five and six years.
Seungri is not the only Korean entertainment figure to be named and shamed by South Korea's #MeToo movement. In 2018, actor and top-level film executive Jo Jae-hyun was accused of sexual harassment. Jo acknowledged these accusations, even admitting fault in a statement - but a Seoul court ruled against his accuser, fining her $260,000.
Separately, former SS501 group member Kim Hyung-jun was accused of sexual assault in 2019. The boyband member filed a lawsuit against his accuser. She was sentenced to eight months in jail for defaming the star.
This trend of powerful men finding success in counter-suing their accusers persists in China, too. The BBC reported in 2018 on the #MeToo accusations leveled against famous Chinese TV host Zhu Jun, best known for hosting the nation's annual Spring Festival Gala. Zhou Xiaoxuan, a woman known by her online name "Xianzi," accused Zhu of forcibly groping her when she was working as an intern at the CCTV television station. He countersued, and the case has dragged on for years. Most recently, the long-awaited second hearing of Zhou's case was abruptly canceled in May.
These past cases further amplify how big a deal Wu's arrest - and the Chinese state censor's swift scrubbing of him from all social media platforms - is. In China, Wu faces a situation called "封杀," which essentially means a celebrity is blacklisted, their career dead in the water.
Even before Wu's arrest, global brands like Lancome, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, and Porsche cut ties with him. Per Nikkei Asia, top stars like Wu can expect to rake in around $3 million for each ad campaign, meaning Wu may have lost around $20 million overnight.
Wu's arrest is a victory for Chinese feminists, who for years were censored or jailed for being vocal about sexual assault
Just six years ago, it was still taboo to be vocal about sexual misconduct in China.
In 2015, a group of women dubbed China's "feminist five" were detained by the country's government for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble." This was after they planned mini protests to speak out against sexual harassment and domestic violence - at one point donning wedding dresses splattered with fake blood and marching in Beijing's streets.
In 2018, Chinese censors also played a cat-and-mouse game with feminists on Weibo (China's version of Twitter), trying to shut down their posts. Women found a way to evade censorship, however, by communicating via emoji, using the emojis for "rice" and "bunny" - pronounced "mi" and "tu" respectively - to circulate posts about the #MeToo movement.
Wu's arrest could mark a sea change in how sexual assault is handled in the country.
Speaking to The New York Times, Chinese women's rights activist Lu Pin said: "For the last three years, a number of prominent figures have faced #MeToo accusations, but nothing ever happened to them. Now with Wu, #MeToo has finally taken down someone with real power in China - it has shown that no matter how powerful you are, rape is not acceptable."
Jenny Coleman, the director of Stop It Now, a US-based non-profit organization combating sexual abuse, told Insider that Wu's arrest could open up an opportunity to initiate new conversations in Asia about how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse and hold accountable those who do cause harm - and what can be done to prevent abuse in the first place.
Coleman said this is the crux of the #MeToo movement, adding that bringing incidents "out of the shadows" can change perspectives, behaviors, and responses.
"Taking a deep look at why a culture preserves the image and reputation of those accused of sexual offenses over those who have been victimized is a first necessary step," Coleman said. "I do hope that as Asia begins to hopefully tackle how to both prevent sexual harm from happening and how to respond to incidents, so that creating opportunities for people to take responsibility for their behaviors and get help is prioritized."
Wu has lost many fans, but still maintains hardcore supporters - including women who say they "don't give a f--- about feminism."
Despite the accusations against him, many of Wu's fans continue to hang on.
Videos circulating on Weibo showed fans coming out en-masse to hold vigils for Wu, hoping for his safe release from detention.
-Power Girls (@flyaway235) July 31, 2021
"I don't give a f--- about 'feminism' and these women. I just want him to be set free. He is innocent," a woman in her 20s who wanted to be known as Yao told Insider.
"I just don't believe someone like Kris would rape anyone. Real fans know who he is and that the truth will prevail," said Yao, who runs a Wu fan page on Weibo.
"I think that evil s--t (Du Meizhu) should be thankful that Kris would even bother looking at her," said Wu fangirl Sun Xi, who is in her late 20s, to Insider. "When more information comes out, all the fake fans who betrayed him will be filled with regret."
But some of Wu's former fans have waved the white flag where supporting him is concerned.
"I've supported Kris ever since his EXO days. But it's just not logical to stand by someone if they're accused of sex offenses by so many women. It is super creepy," said Elise Hong, 24, who lives in Hangzhou, China, adding that the fact that Wu has been arrested "does not look good for him."
"Women should believe and support other women. Du and the other girls are being very brave, knowing the serious consequences of what could happen if they're found out to be lying," Hong added.
"I think we can still say Kris is innocent until proven guilty. I'm curious to see how the official investigations go, too." former Wu supporter Christy Zheng Xi, 31, from Beijing, told Insider. "But I'm done with him."
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