Actress Zheng Shuang killed her career by abandoning her babies born to surrogate mothers in the U.S.

Society & Culture

Zheng Shuang's career in entertainment is almost certainly over, after four days of being at the center of a scandal about her abandoning her two infant children, who were born via paid surrogacy.

Zheng Shuang

Chinese actress Zhèng Shuǎng 郑爽 was poised for megastardom in 2021 after becoming the Chinese face of the luxury fashion brand Prada, landing the digital cover of the January issue of Harper’s Bazaar China, and gearing up to promote three TV shows featuring her that were slated to air this year. But her career in entertainment is almost certainly over, after four days of being at the center of a scandal about her abandoning her two infant children, who were born via paid surrogacy. The stream of bad news about Zheng has rocked Chinese social media, drawn condemnation from authorities, and prompted a growing list of companies to sever ties with her.

The broad-based backlash erupted on Monday after Zhāng Héng 张恒, Zheng’s former partner, accused the 29-year-old actress of abandoning two children they had through U.S.-based surrogate mothers (commercial surrogacy is illegal in China). Zhang said in a Weibo post that he and his parents had been “stranded” in the U.S. for over a year because they had to take care of the “two young, innocent lives.” Zhang and Zheng had ended their relationship before the children were born. 

The situation got messier when an anonymous friend of Zhang’s leaked an alleged voice recording of a conversation between the already separated couple and their parents to a celebrity news website, in which Zheng’s father suggests that the pair should abandon the children at the hospital, and her mother lobbies for giving them up “for adoption.” At one point, Zheng expresses annoyance that it was too late to terminate the babies because they had been in the womb for seven months. 

While Zheng attempted to tamp down the controversy by issuing a vaguely worded statement, in which she insisted that she never broke any laws, her response satisfied neither the public nor China’s moralizing state media.

A slew of government news outlets condemned Zheng for her “irresponsible actions.” In an article (in Chinese) published on Tuesday, the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission lambasted Zheng for “taking advantage of loopholes in the U.S. legal system” and “having deviant world views and twisted moral values” as a public figure. China Central Television, the country’s main state broadcaster, also wrote (in Chinese) on Weibo that “surrogacy is strictly banned in China” because it’s founded on “disrespect for life.” 

Other comments made by organizations related to China’s entertainment industry have struck a more aggressive and personal tone. The “Ethics Construction Committee” of China’s Television Artists Association scolded (in Chinese) Zheng for trampling “the bottom line of human morality,” which it said was the most essential thing for an artist. Radio and Television Review, a magazine run by China’s top media watchdog, urged (in Chinese) the industry to blacklist scandal-hit celebrities like Zheng.

The bad press has probably destroyed Zheng’s career. On Tuesday, Prada announced that it had “terminated all cooperation” with the actress, making her the most short-lived brand ambassador in the brand’s history, lasting only nine days. About 12 businesses, including London-based jewelry brand Lola Rose, Chinese cosmetics company Chioture, and international hair care brand Aussie, have cut ties with Zheng and deleted promotional material featuring her on social media. 

Harper’s Bazaar China, which had Zheng on the cover of its digital version for January, removed all the social media posts about her. The Huading Awards, popular people’s choice awards for TV stars, decided to revoke (in Chinese) two honors — one for Audience’s Favorite Actress in 2014 and the other for Best Actress in 2016. A number of bookstores across the country reportedly have received a notice (in Chinese) from New Star Press, a major publishing house, asking them to take down the Book of Zheng Shuang, a collection of essays authored by the actress, by the end of January.

The financial fallout of the scandal will likely be heavy for producers and studios who had cast Zheng in leading roles in TV shows and movies that haven’t come out yet. According to the blog Theories of Entertainment Capital (in Chinese), there are at least three TV shows facing cancellation because Zheng is in them. Their investors are likely to lose as much as 700 million yuan ($108 million).