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Divorce of celebrities sparks talk about state of modern marriage in China

The story most talked about on the Chinese mainland this week doesn’t deal with politics, the economy or the Rio Olympics, but the divorce of a leading actor.

On his microblog on Saturday, Wang Baoqiang, a migrant worker-turned actor, accused his wife Ma Rong of having an affair with his agent Song Zhe, and vowed to divorce her. Ma hit back at Wang afterwards, saying he had infringed upon her reputation.

Divorce in China’s world of celebrities is common and doesn’t carry much shock value. Occasionally, news of a break-up among celebrity couples, such as of singer Faye Wong and actor Li Yapeng three years ago, causes a buzz on mainland social media.

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But the attention given to Wang’s claim far exceeds the usual amount given to celebrity break-ups. The hashtag #WangBaoQiangDivorce on Weibo has been viewed more than 7.9 billion times. Even the financial channel of China Central Television got into the saga, inviting experts to talk about how assets might be split after the divorce.

Cao Sanxing, a professor at the Communication University of China, said it was to be expected that Wang’s divorce drew the public. “It’s normal that people are interested in stars’ personal life,” Cao said.

But discussion among mainlanders has gone beyond gossip of cheating to how fragile marriage can be in modern Chinese society. About 3.84 million couples reportedly divorced last year.

Some people have commented that marriages can be vulnerable if the partners are not matched in status, appearance and education.

Wang, 32, was born into a poor rural family in Hebei province and received limited schooling. He learned martial arts at age six, and went on to play roles as extras in films before rising to fame in director Feng Xiaogang’s movie A World Without Thieves in 2004 starring Hong Kong’s Andy Lau Tak-wah.

He met Ma in 2007, when he was already famous and they married two years later. Unlike Wang, Ma went to university, studying broadcasting at the Xian-based Northwest University, where she was dubbed a beauty.

“Wang was not highly educated, while Ma studied university,” posted one blogger hosted on Sina.com. “The differences in the cultural level mean they do not have a common language in their relationship.”

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Ma said on her microblog on Sunday that “the more one tries to hide, the more one is exposed”. She also hinted she would release evidence damaging to Wang when the time was right.

Zhan Jiang, a professor at the School of International Journalism and Communication of Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the public attention paid to Wang’s divorce story was related to “the government’s control over the media”.

“Besides [politically sensitive news], the Olympics is being held in Brazil, too far away from China and the Chinese athletes’ performance is not that good,” Zhan said. “So there is no big news at the moment.”

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