China floods: Celebrities Wang Yibo and Han Hong accused of using the Henan disaster to profit

·3 min read

Chinese actor Wang Yibo and former PLA singer Han Hong have been mired in controversy this week as some have labelled their charity work at the front line of the floods in Henan province “just for show”.

The floods in the central China have killed 71 people in the past week and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Han, one of China’s most well-known singers, went with a team from her charity foundation and Wang on Thursday to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, to deliver supplies to a local children’s hospital. They then went to nearby Gongyi, where the team provided free medical services to trapped locals, a Weibo post from the charity said last week.

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Han went with a team from her charity foundation and Wang on Thursday to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, to deliver supplies. Photo: 163.com
Han went with a team from her charity foundation and Wang on Thursday to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, to deliver supplies. Photo: 163.com

In videos published by entertainment blogs, Wang is seen standing in knee-deep water, throwing packaged food up to locals trapped in a building. In other pictures, he is seen on a lifeboat, as it went house to house searching for survivors. The lifeboat and life jacket he wore had the words “Fuyang Zhongqing”, the name of a grass-roots rescue team.

Wang, who was born in Luoyang, Henan province in 1997, first found fame as a member of the Chinese boy band Uniq, before embarking on a solo singing career and branching into acting. He is best known for his work on the television shows Gank Your Heart, The Untamed, and Legend of Fei.

However, the gestures soon drew criticism from the public.

Authorities urge celebrities and pop stars like Wang Yibo (above) not to help evacuate victims while some accused the stars of riding on the media wave of the disaster. Photo: 163.com
Authorities urge celebrities and pop stars like Wang Yibo (above) not to help evacuate victims while some accused the stars of riding on the media wave of the disaster. Photo: 163.com

Hai Ling, a writer with 5 million fans on Weibo, questioned whether celebrities can really help those in need.

“Please don’t make a show of it, let professionals do professional work,” she wrote. “Every time there’s a disaster, Han Hong’s charity would have all camera angles and interviews. That’s not a rescue, that’s wasting society’s resources.”

Others claimed that Wang was holding the same box of instant noodles in multiple pictures.

Han defended Wang on Weibo: “He was brave. He did everything in silence and wiped his tears alone. His heart is warm, he has touched me.”

A man stands on a stranded vehicle on a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 22, 2021. Photo: Reuters
A man stands on a stranded vehicle on a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 22, 2021. Photo: Reuters

In past disasters, celebrities who have made donations or travelled to the front lines and conveyed an image of caring for charity have increased their popularity and won favour with authorities.

In response to the controversy, Han‘s charity said on Monday that the team is cautiously but professionally taking part in rescues and that all supplies had come from public donations, and the charity will be transparent and publish reports as soon as it can.

In the past, Han was widely supported for criticising China‘s charity environment in 2017, saying if these organisations cannot be transparent and help those in need, they should be questioned.

Her 2017 interviews regained traction during the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, when the official China Red Cross Society was accused of unprofessional conduct, hoarding supplies of masks in warehouses, even as nearby hospitals ran out.

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