Backlash to Chinese actress Zheng Shuang’s surrogacy scandal: ‘definitely not innocent’, authorities say, while brands distance themselves

Phoebe Zhang
·3-min read

The backlash continues full throttle.

Two days after popular Chinese actress Zheng Shuang was accused by her former partner, producer Zhang Heng, of abandoning their two children born to US-based surrogate mothers, Chinese authorities and a host of commercial brands linked to Zheng have reacted to the controversy.

Zheng’s surrogacy used a legal loophole and was “definitely not innocent”, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China said on Wednesday.

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“Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product,” the commission’s post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, said. “As a Chinese citizen, the act of travelling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding the law.”

Zheng in an advert for Prada. Photo: Prada
Zheng in an advert for Prada. Photo: Prada

China’s state broadcaster CCTV also commented on Weibo that “surrogacy is banned in China because it overlooks life”, before going on to call the practice “trampling the bottom line [of human morality]”.

Fashion brand Prada, who had signed a contract with Zheng just eight days before the news broke, announced it would drop her as its ambassador. Magazines that Zheng had cooperated with, including Modern Weekly and the Chinese version of Harper’s Bazaar, deleted previous social media posts that promoted her.

Other brands, including Chinese cosmetics brand Chioture, London-based jewellery brand Lola Rose and hair care brand Aussie, have distanced themselves from Zheng, announcing on Weibo that their contracts with her have already ended and they are not working with her at present.

The Huading Awards – China’s equivalent to America’s People’s Choice Awards – announced it will renounce Zheng’s “best actress in a modern TV series” award from 2016 and “top 10 favorite TV stars” award from 2014. Netizens also demanded online that reality shows she currently features in, and films she is scheduled to appear in, drop the actress.

Zheng in an advert for hair care brand Aussie. Photo: Facebook / Aussie
Zheng in an advert for hair care brand Aussie. Photo: Facebook / Aussie

Other celebrities and organisations that had previous associations with surrogacy have also come under intense public scrutiny.

Blued, a Chinese gay social app, promptly took offline a section that helped users set up services with surrogacy firms overseas, according to Lanjinger, a finance news platform.

Netizens also condemned movie star Xu Jinglei after a previous video interview was reposted in which she said she was prepared to use surrogacy when she’s ready to have a child.

“It’s quite normal, lots of people around me do it … I’ve introduced many friends to hospitals,” she said in the video.

Chinese actress Xu Jinglei has also come under fire. Photo: Getty Images
Chinese actress Xu Jinglei has also come under fire. Photo: Getty Images

On Monday, Zhang accused Zheng of abandoning their two children born to US-based surrogate mothers after the couple’s relationship ended before the children were born over a year ago. In a voice recording provided by one of Zhang’s friends to Chinese platform NetEase Entertainment, in which Zheng, Zhang and their parents allegedly discussed what to do with the then-unborn children, Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zheng expressed annoyance that they could not be aborted as they had been in the womb for seven months.

The scandal reignited debates over surrogacy laws in China.

A ban of the practice is not technically written in legal codes, but the Ministry of Health has prohibited surrogacy in the country and other government ministries previously launched crackdowns against the practice.

Underground businesses still exist, however, where agents set clients up with black-market surrogates in China as well as help them travel overseas to where surrogacy is legal, including some states in the US.

Zhang Heng, Zheng’s former partner, with the two children in the US who he accuses Zheng of abandoning. Photo: Weibo / Zhang Heng
Zhang Heng, Zheng’s former partner, with the two children in the US who he accuses Zheng of abandoning. Photo: Weibo / Zhang Heng

There is now a public debate on whether there needs to be an overall ban and even on making the practice a criminal offence.

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