Chinese Celebrity Divorce Scandal Attracts 5 Billion Views on Social Media

Wang Baoqiang and Ma Rong - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Action star Wang Baoqiang is seeking to divorce his actress wife Ma Rong over an alleged extramarital affair with his agent.

While Johnny Depp's divorce remains all the talk of U.S. tabloids, China has been captivated by an unseemly celebrity split all of its own.

Chinese actor Wang Baoqiang's divorce from his wife, Ma Rong, over an alleged extramarital affair, has all but subsumed Chinese social media this week, with posts about the scandal attracting over five billion views.

The 32-year-old star, affectionately known as "Baobao" to his fans, put out an emotional Weibo post on Sunday, announcing that he was divorcing Ma, and firing his agent, Song Zhe, after discovering a sexual relationship between the two. He also alleged that Ma had transferred some of the couple's joint assets, and described her alleged actions as having "severely hurt the marriage and destroyed the family." The couple have two small children together.

Wang's message instantly went viral, and according to Sina Weibo, posts with the hashtag #WangBaoQiangDivorce have been viewed over five billion times — approximately four times the number of China's entire population (clearly, many are revisiting the issue far more than once). Few topics in recent memory have become such a phenomenon on Chinese social media.

A versatile actor known for an earnest image, Wang's roles have spanned art house favorites like Berlin Silver Bear winner Blind Shaft and Jia Zhangke's A Touch of Sin to commercial hits such as Lost in Thailand and Detective Chinatown. His directorial debut, action comedy Buddies in India, is set for release in China in December.

Much of the social media frenzy has centered on expressions of support for Wang and condemnation of Ma. A far narrower faction has come out in support of the wife, suggesting that there could be more to the story or that he must have neglected her while focusing on his career.

Wang filed for divorce in Beijing court on Monday, reportedly seeking custody of the couple's children and division of their assets.

Ma responded in the courts on Tuesday, suing Wang for defamation of character and demanding that he delete the original Weibo post and formally apologize. She also fired back at him in a widely circulated WeChat post, saying that he had abandoned his family.

While still stigmatized — especially for women — divorce has been steadily on the rise in China. A total of 3.84 million couples in China divorced in 2015, an increase of 5.6 percent from 2014, according to the state-backed newspaper Global Times.