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Surrogacy Abandonment Scandal Captivates and Enrages Chinese Social Media

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Actress Zheng Shuang’s intimate personal life has ballooned into a major subject of public discussion in China in the past week, where surrogacy is overwhelmingly viewed as exploitative of women.

Zheng Shuang and her boyfriend Zhang Heng — also an actor — split up in 2019. Zheng claimed her ex owed money for borrowing from loan sharks in her name, and had fled to the US. Zhang, after a period of silence on the break-up, recently posted to Chinese microblogging platform Weibo to denounce those claims, saying he’d gone instead to be with his two young children. 

This prompted a firestorm of attention, as Zheng had never publicly appeared pregnant. News outlets dug into the matter, ultimately unearthing the children’s birth certificates. The two children were born less than one month apart, indicating that they’d been born via surrogate mothers (an illegal act in China).

From there, the drama only got worse.

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In a leaked phone call from before the children’s birth, Zheng Shuang, her parents, and her in-laws, argue about the future of their surrogate children. The actress is heard complaining, “It’s impossible to abort a fetus when it’s 7 months old. F*ck!”

Zheng Shuang quickly shot to the number one trending spot on Weibo, where users were upset over her eagerness to abort or abandon her children. Soon the discussions around surrogacy had grown far wider than Zheng’s isolated case.

“The moment you choose surrogacy, you are validating the claim that the uterus is a product and that babies can be commodified. When a woman defends surrogacy, she is pushing herself towards hell,” reads one of the most upvoted Weibo comments on the story.

“This issue is so horrifying. It implies to the public that surrogacy is justifiable, and that you can do anything as long as you have money,” reads a comment under the Weibo of Zheng Shuang’s father. “It just goes to show how much influence these irresponsible and unethical public figures hold over our perception.” 

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The scandal had immediate consequences for Zheng Shuang’s career — brands across the board dropped her as a spokesperson, terminating agreements and deleting past posts. One of the biggest was Prada, which had inked its contract with the star just days earlier.

Since then, Zheng has carefully spoken out on the matter, saying that she’s “saddened” that the details of her personal life were being “exposed to the public with ulterior motives in mind.”

She said that she “followed the law while on Chinese soil, and respected all laws while overseas,” and that she had returned to China after finding out that Zhang had cheated on her in September 2019.

Zheng’s father wrote his own post, calling Zhang and his family “sinister and crafty scumbags.” He called Zhang a serial cheater, saying that he has “indecent” footage of other women on his phone.

“We will take responsibility for the two children. We’re a responsible family,” he wrote.

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Meanwhile, Blued, the world’s largest LGBTQ dating app, was choosing the wrong time to launch its surrogacy mediation service. The BluedBaby platform — where service fees range from 400,000 to 1 million RMB (about 60,000-150,000USD) — has been shut down since the Zheng Shuang scandal.

It’s not the first time surrogacy has drawn controversy — Farewell my Concubine director Chen Kaige found himself in hot water last month over a surrogacy-themed short film. And while Zheng Shuang’s case is spilling over with celebrity-powered relationship drama, both stories highlight the increasing influence and discussion around women’s issues in China.

Lola Yang
    Born in Beijing and raised in Canada, Lola currently studies Asian Studies and English at the University of Michigan. She is an aspiring journalist with a deep interest in East Asian cultures and media.