Being involved in a prostitution scandal normally spells career disaster for most celebrities, but a famous Chinese actor has unexpectedly been greeted by a largely sympathetic public response after being caught out in a alleged prostitution bust.
Huang Haibo, a 39-year-old actor best known for playing the “nice everyman” over the years in Chinese TV dramas and movies, was nabbed last week at the scene in a Beijing hotel for allegedly soliciting prostitution after police received an anonymous tip-off.
He confessed his involvement to police and was sentenced to 15 days’ detention for prostitution, which is illegal on the Chinese mainland.
Huang is known for his wholesome image and has been given the nickname “national son-in-law” for often playing the part of an honest married man on popular romance TV dramas.
The recent scandal may have been a far cry from his screen image but most members of the public appeared not to mind too much. The news led to a surprising outpouring of sympathy on social media networks in the days following his arrest, with some even saying he did not deserve media scrutiny for his actions.
“No one is perfect. I am not disappointed by you because of this,” said one fan online.
Many defended him arguing he had done nothing immoral as according to media reports he is a single unmarried man.
“He did not embezzle public funds, nor take advantage of actress or fans… I don’t see any legitimacy in [police] wasting taxpayers’ money on [pursuing] such dealings where no one is harmed,” read one post that circulated widely on Chinese cyberspace.
“Prostitution while single is morally much better than having extramarital affairs,” another said, echoed by quite a few online users.
Huang also won support from his peers.
His’s ex-girlfriend, actress Mo Xiaoqi, said on her Weibo microblog: “Prostitution before marriage is very human,” and urged the public to “mind your own business”.
Director Liu Jiang, who last year worked with Huang on the hit romance TV drama Marry me, emphasised that the actor was a simple, straightforward man. “He can very easily offend someone while unconscious about it…he has paid a price for his naivety,” Liu commented on his Weibo microblog, appearing to implicitly suggest the tip-off was part of a scheme to defame Huang.
Despite Chinese laws prohibiting prostitution and frequent anti-prostitution police campaigns, sex workers are still common in most Chinese cities. A 2009 joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS estimated that there were between 1.8 and 3.7 million sex workers in China.
The public, or at least the online communities, seems to have become more tolerant than ever to prostitution. Earlier this year, police launched a months-long anti-prostitution crackdown in Dongguan, an industrial hub one hour’s drive north of Hong Kong known for its “thriving sex industry”. However there was widespread sympathy and support for the detained sex workers, prompting a heated online debate about legalising prostitution.