Chinese celebrity scandal puts surrogate births on trial
The scandal already seemed tailor-made for celebrity websites and online gossip: A glamorous Chinese actress was accused by her ex-partner of abandoning two surrogate babies they had decided to have together, the blocking in the United States to deal with them.
When his allegations aired on the internet in China on Monday, the outrage could not be limited to the pages of gossip. The charges against actress Zheng Shuang dominated the online conversation and sparked a heated reaction from the public, state news media and even a powerful Communist Party legal group on the subject of reproduction. China’s limits on who looks for surrogate mothers should be tightened, officials said.
Beyond the salacious details of the celebrity breakup, the scandal surrounding Ms. Zheng touches on sensitive issues for a country with a troubled story with women’s reproductive rights and this remains largely linked to traditional notions of the family.
China prohibits medical providers from offering alternative services but does not prevent people from using them, said Yu Yuanjian, a lawyer specializing in civil and commercial litigation at Joint-Win Partners in Shanghai.
The limitations of reproductive technology in general have sparked growing skepticism from those pointing the finger at China. historically low birth rate and women’s rights activists who condemn government laws that control their bodies.
Many of those looking for surrogates are couples who have lost a child or have fertility issues, said Kelvin Ma, partner at Shanghai Demei law firm. He said he had worked with clients to review surrogacy contracts with foreign agencies.
“The customers I have come in contact with are actually quite innocent,” Mr. Ma said, adding, “They want a child very much and they can afford it.”
Lawyers for Ms. Zheng and her former partner, a television producer named Zhang Heng, did not respond to requests for comment. It was not clear why they were using substitutes.
The scandal came to light through recordings of Ms. Zheng’s conversations that were posted online and then widely reported in Chinese media. Ms. Zheng’s father, Zheng Chenghua, said on his verified account on Weibo, China’s popular social media platform, that the recordings were just snippets and lacked context. He did not respond to a request for comment.
At one point in the recording, at a time that aroused particular anger in China, Ms. Zheng appeared to express her frustration that the pregnancies lasted for several months and could not be terminated.
Mr. Zheng said online that Mr. Zhang was trying to force his daughter to a settlement to resolve a $ 3 million legal judgment she won against him for a loan she said she did not repay. Mr. Zhang is appealing this decision to a court in Shanghai.
On her official social media account, Ms. Zheng, 29 – who a few years ago topped China’s most popular actresses list – said her fight with Mr. Zhang, 30, was ” a very sad and private matter for me ”.
She found little sympathy. Luxury fashion brand Prada said it canceled its contract as a brand ambassador, as did a cosmetics company and a watchmaker. The Chinese Industry Awards Committee stripped Ms. Zheng of her 2016 title of “Best Actress in Modern Chinese TV Dramas” and her 2014 title of “Top Ten Favorite TV Star”.
China Central Television, the state’s leading broadcaster, on Tuesday released his own condemnation surrogacy on Weibo. “His contempt for life is heinous,” he said.
Without mentioning Ms. Zheng’s name, the broadcaster said that surrogacy could lead to the free disposal of a fetus, for example if the couple wanted a boy instead of a girl. In the 1990s, China made it illegal to identify the sex of a fetus in an attempt to prevent gender-based abortions, which led to millions more men than women due to a traditional preference for boys.
On the same day, the Central Committee for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party accused Ms. Zheng to “take advantage of legal loopholes” to organize a surrogate pregnancy.
Other state media have called for an outright ban on substitution pregnancies. A media outlet linked to the All-China Women’s Federation, a state-sponsored group that often follows the party line, posted a video why the practice cannot be legalized. Critics have argued that surrogacy allows the wealthy to exploit disadvantaged women who have few other options for earning money.
But the scandal comes at a time when some people in China are rethinking these notions. China’s declining birth rate has prompted some women’s rights activists, academics and others to question the country’s restrictions on reproductive techniques like surrogate births and freezing eggs. Women’s groups also cite the horrors of the old one-child policy, which led to forced abortions and government intrusion into women’s reproductive choices to control the population, which is the largest in the world. with 1.4 billion people.
Surrogacy has become more popular in recent years as changing social norms, relaxing one-child policy, and rising infertility have prompted wealthy single women, same-sex couples and others to travel abroad for assisted reproduction.
According to the Initium, a Hong Kong-based digital media company, about 1,000 Chinese babies are born through IVF each year in the United States, where surrogacy laws vary by state. The practice has become so popular that China’s largest online reservation company, Ctrip.com, is offering grants to some managers so they can freeze their eggs.
In one of the tapes, Ms. Zheng told her parents and Mr. Zhang that if she and Mr. Zhang ever recover, they can still have children using her frozen and fertilized eggs.
Amid growing public anger towards Ms. Zheng, women’s rights groups expressed frustration that Mr. Zhang received less criticism. Women are often blamed for reproductive decisions made with their partners, said Feng Yuan, a women’s rights activist and co-founder of a non-profit women’s rights group in Beijing, which has resulted in more restrictions. strict on the services used by women.
“The main topic of the debate is surrogacy, but Zheng Shuang seems to be the only target, and Internet users are avoiding Zhang Heng,” said Ms. Feng, using a term for Internet users in China.