Chinese celebrities fire back at cyberbullies following K-pop star Sulli’s death

Society & Culture

With fame comes glamour, wealth, and adoration from supporters, but it doesn’t guarantee happiness. In fact, for many celebrities in the internet age, fame opens up the floodgates to bullies and trolls. The psychological toll can be particularly brutal on female artists in Asia, who deal with an immense amount of pressure to look perfect while maintaining a “wholesome” image.

The apparent suicide of 25-year-old K-pop singer and actress Sulli, who was found dead on Monday in her home, has brought the issue of the mental health of female celebrities to the forefront of public attention. A frequent target of cyberbullying, Sulli was an unusually outspoken celebrity on issues of sexuality, femininity, and mental health in her native South Korea, where these subjects are seldom discussed in public. Her tragic death encouraged more than a few Chinese celebrities to open up about their own experiences about online abuse.

Ethnic Kazakh actress Rèyīzhā 热依扎, who has spoken candidly about her struggles with depression on multiple occasions, clapped back at an online troll on Monday, vowing to take the person to court after they accused her of exaggerating her experiences in the wake of Sulli’s death. “You instantly reposted my comment because you desired attention after Sulli’s suicide. I knew you couldn’t wait to brand yourself as a victim of cyberbullying,” the troll wrote, following a previous Weibo post that criticized Reyizha for faking her mental illness.

In response, the actress said on Weibo that she would sue the bully for “slander, defamation, and insult.” Reyizha wrote (in Chinese), “There are many people on the internet just like you. They would harm other people just as you did to me if I don’t sue you today!”

Reyizha has previously been subjected to slut-shaming. In September, the actress defended her outfits in an interview with the Beijing News. “I’ve seen articles that denounce my style as an offense against decency. I’ve seen more articles that support my style, saying that women can wear whatever they want. I don’t align myself with any of these positions,” she said (in Chinese). “My stance is that this shouldn’t be a topic for discussion in the first place.”


On Thursday, Sòng Qiàn 宋茜, who was part of the K-pop girl group F(x) with Sulli, took to Weibo to express her frustration about being flooded with malicious comments — most of them accusing her of staying silent after Sulli’s death.  “Since when did making posts on Weibo, WeChat, and Instagram become a way to judge people’s morality?” Song wrote. “Social media sites are supposed to be where people share stuff, not put on a performance. I will post when I feel like posting.”

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Meanwhile, pop diva Nà Yīng 那英, who recently made headlines for kicking a fan who attempted to take a picture with her without her consent, penned a lengthy statement (in Chinese) on Weibo on October 18 to squash rumors about her divorce. “This is not the first time that things like this have happened to me…but I can’t remain silent this time because my beloved family members are under attack,” she wrote, referring to her husband, who has also been targeted. “They are powerless victims in the fact of cyberbullying and online violence.” Na also threatened legal action against any gossip-mongers.

In an online survey (in Chinese) posted by Toutiao News on Thursday, more than 100,000 respondents weighed in, with 63 percent saying they would take legal action against internet bullies; 30 percent said they’d prefer to call out and directly engage with bullies, while 5 percent said they’d endure the abuse. The rest of the respondents chose “other.”