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Criticism of Dancer for Being Childless at 61 Sparks Furious Responses on Chinese Social Media

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After a netizen made sarcastic remarks about 61-year-old dancer Yang Liping’s childlessness, Chinese celebrities and netizens alike are voicing their criticism on social media, kicking off a heated debate over modern-day gender roles.

Yang is an internationally-renowned dancer and choreographer who became famous for her signature dance, “Spirit of Peacock” (雀之灵) in the late 1980s. Yang — who is originally from Yunnan and of the Bai ethnic minority — is known for her dazzling and creative body of work that is deeply connected with her heritage, earning her the nicknames “Peacock Princess” and “Goddess of Dance” from her fans.

Recently, a netizen commented on one of Yang’s social media posts saying: 

“The biggest failure as a female is childlessness. The so-called ‘live your own life’ is a lie. Even if you could stay young for another 30 years, when it comes to 100-year-olds, will you look like you are 30? No matter how pretty and accomplished you are, you cannot beat time. You won’t be able to have the joy of being surrounded by grandchildren when you are 90.”

Critic Weibo Yang Liping dancer

The harsh comment incited an intense debate online. In particular, a slew of famous female celebrities reacted with anger on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.

Singer and actress Qi Wei retorted,

”The biggest failure as a person is still trying to define a woman. The belief that reproductivity is the only qualification for a female to be considered as accomplished is making it worse… Tool for reproduction?! No, that time is long gone.”

Her comment has since received over 1.4 million likes.

A highly upvoted comment on Qi’s post reads, “We should take reproductive rights into our own hands.”

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Fellow actress Chen Shu responded in her own way to the controversy by captioning a screenshot from one of her productions in which the character asks, “Does the value of women lie in reproductivity?” simply with “No!”

Days later, Yang herself spoke out with a classy response: “It is inevitable that every human being will go on a journey to become old […] But as long as your spirit is young and filled with positive vibes, you will have a special aura around you. As long as you think you are having a good life and are not harmful to others, it is all good. Thank you everyone for your understanding and love. I hope we could all be at ease, just like me.”

yang liping response weibo childlessness

The hashtag #杨丽萍回应争议# (“Yang Liping responds to the controversial remark”) has attracted 590 million views to date on Weibo. One user on the platform wrote on a related post: “In society, not getting married is not abnormal, but forcing others to be married is.”

After facing a barrage of attacks online, the netizen who posted the original comment apologized to the public through a video on June 9. She claimed that Yang is one of her favorite stars, and it was not her intention to hurt her. But netizens are still not impressed. One replied to the video, “Please do not impose your single-minded thoughts on others.”

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Interestingly, one of Yang ’s most well-known mentees, Shuiyue (水月), officially announced her same-sex marriage with her partner recently, news that was warmly received online.

The controversy also comes not long after China released its first-ever civil code, which sets a 30-day cooling off period as a prerequisite for a mutual divorce and has been seen by some to quietly offer same-sex couples greater rights when it comes to residing in shared properties. In recent years, there has also been an increasing backlash against putting pressure on couples to have more babies.

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Conversations around such issues are getting louder and louder inside China, as the country slowly moves towards gender equality.

Header image: Tutmos via Wikimedia Commons

Siyuan Meng
    Born and raised in Shaoxing, Siyuan lived in New York and Los Angeles prior to Shanghai. If she is not at work, she is probably at an art museum, a gym, a Mom-and-Pop restaurant or a park. She likes reading books or playing the piano on rainy days. She thinks she takes great photos.