Police arrest Kris Wu on suspicion of rape

Society & Culture

A pop singer has been detained by police on suspicion of rape, and Chinese social media is celebrating.

kriswu (2)
Illustration by Derek Zheng

About two weeks ago, Chinese-Canadian singer-actor Kris Wu (Wú Yìfán 吴亦凡) responded to allegations that he was a serial sexual predator who preyed upon young women by calling his accusers liars, and saying he would put himself in jail if the claims against him were true.

Well, looks like the police just did it for him.

On Saturday, news broke that the 30-year-old pop star, who was a member of the enormously popular South Korean-Chinese supergroup EXO before pursuing a solo career in China, had been detained by Beijing police for what they called “suspected rape.” According to a message (in Chinese) posted by the Chaoyang District Public Security Bureau on Weibo, a criminal investigation is being conducted into the online complaints that Wu, who was born in China but holds Canadian citizenship, had “repeatedly luring young women into having sex with him.”

Wu’s recent trouble began last month when a handful of women came forward to detail a pattern of predatory behavior, alleging, among other things, that Wu seduced aspiring models and actresses, some underage, into inappropriate sexual relationships with career promises, which rarely materialized. 

Dōu Měizhú 都美竹, a 19-year-old university student, has been the most prominent voice in speaking out against Wu. In a series of Weibo posts, Du described a harrowing encounter with the pop star when she was 17, where Wu allegedly invited her to a hotel for a work-related meeting only to tell her to come up to his room for an one-on-one discussion that ended with Wu sexually assaulting her when she was intoxicated. 

Du also alleged that Wu asked heads of his fan communities to arrange in-person meet-and-greets with followers who were “young and pretty,” and that Wu regularly told his sex partners to introduce their friends to his cricle, and rewarded them with expensive gifts or cash payments.

Wu and his agency adamantly denied Du’s allegations, calling her claims “malicious rumors” and threatening to file a defamation lawsuit against her. But as the scandal gained momentum and public outrage grew, a slew of major global brands —  including Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Porsche, and L’Oréal  —  cut ties with Wu, marking a significant blow to his professional career.

What are Wu’s offenses, exactly?

Wu’s detention was a shocking turn of events that few saw coming. “The news definitely struck me as a surprise,” said Lǚ Pín 吕频, a leading Chinese feminist activist based in New York. “Because Du didn’t include much evidence in her initial allegations, and Chinese authorities rarely take claims by an alleged victim of sexual assault seriously when she knows her perpetutor, I didn’t expect Wu’s case to be handled this way this soon,”

Lü added that the odds were stacked against Du especially after a statement (in Chinese) released on July 22, in which the police in Beijing’s Chaoyang district responsible for handling the case wrote that based on its preliminary investigation, it determined that that Du hyped up her story in posts written with a friend “in order to enhance their own online popularity.”

While the statement didn’t actually draw any conclusions about the legal culpability of either Wu or Du, the way it framed the matter — picturing Du as a fame-seeker who planned an elaborate scheme to boost her influencer career — was met with intense criticism from Du’s supporters who believed that it was an example of victim-blaming.

Because Saturday’s announcement didn’t provide any specific information about the police investigation, rumors have run rampant on the Chinese internet as to Wu’s potential wrongdoings. In a screenshot of a widely disseminated WeChat conversation, a person who claimed to be close to the matter said that the nail in the coffin was that one of Wu’s victims was only 13-years-old. The legal age of consent is 14 in China. 

Popular speculation also suggested that the detention had to do with Wu’s possible drug use, given that official social media accounts of China’s National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC) shared the news immediately after it came out. 

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Social media calls for justice

Over the weekend, the latest development in Wu’s rapidly escalating scandal was trending as the most searched topic across various Chinese social media platforms, sparking a celebratory reaction with millions of internet users calling for justice to be brought against Wu. On Weibo, hashtag “Wu Yifan has been detained” #吴亦凡被刑拘# has so far amassed a staggering 4.2 billions views and inspired over 1.7 million posts.

“Good job on the police’s part. Wu can rot in jail,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), while another person commented (in Chinese), “Kinda surprised it has actually come to this. But this is what Wu deserves by all accounts.”

There was also an explosion of encouraging words for Du, with many praising her for her bravery in speaking out. “I really hope more victims  will be inspired by Zhu to come forward to police departments, who will hopefully in turn listen to more women, and alter the way they handle these cases,” a Weibo user remarked (in Chinese).

Rumors surrounding Wu’s alleged predatory behavior go back years: In 2016, he was embroiled in a scandal when a then 19-year-old influencer alleged that Wu had ghosted her after months of dating, and used her for sex while hooking up with other women. 

But this time, Wu has been deprived of platforms to defend himself: On Sunday, the mega pop star suffered a nearly comprehensive purge of his social media presence as a long list of services — including WeChat, Weibo, and Douyin — removed his official accounts. Major music streaming services, such as Tencent’s QQ Music, also removed his entire discography. In explaining the blocking of Wu’s content, most platforms cited “relevant regulations and laws” or violations of its community rules. 

Weibo, where Wu had over 51 million followers, went one step further, closing hundreds of online communities formed by Wu’s fans, as well as suspending nearly 1,000 other accounts that it said had made “misleading”, “irrational” or “extreme” remarks about the case. 

Celebrities who defended Wu in the past were not immune to the clampdown either. Several famous figures, including popular television host Mǎ Wēiwēi 马薇薇, who infamously said in 2016 that it was an honor for Wu’s fans to have sex with him, also had their Weibo accounts suspended. Ma later created a new Weibo account under a pseudonym to post an apology video, in which she announced (in Chinese) that she would take a hiatus to reflect on her past mistakes. 

“Wu’s career is basically over, regardless of whether he will serve jail time or not,” Lü Pin told SupChina. But she added that Weibo’s large-scale elimination of Wu-related accounts was an “unwarranted reaction” to the scandal, an example of the platform’s “arbitrary approach to regulating online speech.”

Too soon for women to celebrate?

Online, Chinese women’s rights activists have hailed Wu’s detention as a positive sign that the public’s views on consent and sexual assault are changing at a time when China’s late-blooming #MeToo movement has galvanized women, encouraged many to speak out, and produced some institutional change above and beyond consciousness-raising. 

But Lü cautioned that it might be too soon to label Wu’s detention as a turning point in women’s empowerment, one that will result in fundamental changes in how the criminal-legal system functions and how the government treats cases where ordinary women are pitted against powerful men. 

She said that her doubt intensified on Monday when a number of state media outlets and entertainment industry associations commented on the matter, casting Wu as a disgraced public figure who acted in an “immoral way,” instead of an influential man abusing his power to exploit young girls. 

Lü also took issue with a string of editorial pieces published in the Chinese media that blamed the culture of celebrity worship for enabling Wu to take advantage of his followers. “It’s ridiculous to suggest that his fans should be responsible for his behavior. They are victims,” Lü said. “It looks like a deliberate campaign to marginalize feminist voices in the public discourse surrouding Wu’s scandal.”