‘I like to show off’: Chinese celebrity Guo Meimei confesses to prostitution, gambling charges on state TV
Critics say state media coverage of celebrity’s confession is an attempt to 'whitewash' China's Red Cross and divert public attention away from spate of tragedies and political scandals
Patrick Boehler and Cece Zhang
Infamous internet celebrity Guo Meimei appeared on state television wearing orange prison attire on Sunday night, remorseful and in tears over her luxurious lifestyle and the public relations stunt that single-handedly destroyed the reputation of the Red Cross Society of China.
The 23-year-old was detained in Beijing last month on gambling-related charges. Her "confession" broadcast on state-run television marked the end of a months-long investigation by a special cross-provincial police unit.
The public confession to all charges laid against her marks a steep turn in Guo’s celebrity career, which had even led her to shoot a self-funded film of her life story last year. The film detailed how she went from a troubled childhood in Hunan to study at the Beijing Film Academy before plunging the Red Cross into scandal in 2011.
Watch: Guo Meimei's confession on CCTV
Guo caused nationwide outrage and a massive drop in donations to the state-backed charity when she claimed to work for a subsidiary of it, while at the same time flaunting pictures of a Maserati car and luxury bags on her Weibo account.
The Red Cross denied any ties to Guo, but the public did not believe the charity, which is registered under the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
The socialite has continued to share photos of herself at luxury resorts, upscale restaurants and Macau’s casino tables with her almost 1.9 million followers on Weibo.
In a confession aired on China Central Television on Sunday night, Guo said she fabricated her affiliation with the Red Cross purely out of vanity.
“I like to show off,” she said. “I have the vain mindset of a little girl.”
Beijing TV’s broadcast included testimony from Shenzhen-based businessman Wang Jun, who was Guo’s partner at the time. Guo said she was his mistress. When he planned to use the Red Cross brand for an advertising campaign, Guo asked to head the new business venture and rushed to add her presumptive new job title to her Weibo account, she said.
Internet users soon discovered Guo’s Weibo profile page and photos of luxury cars, pouring scorn on her and the Red Cross. Her name became synonymous with China’s newly rich shamelessly flaunting their wealth.
“I would like to tell the Red Cross that I’m sorry,” said a tearful Guo, while bowing, in the Beijing TV report. “I want to apologise even more to those people who are unable to get help,” as donations to the Red Cross have dried up ever since.
Businessman Wang, 46, was also detained on criminal charges on July 24, Xinhua said.
The Beijing TV report saw Guo admit to operating an illegal gambling venue in Beijing, as well as having sex with various unnamed men for money. She also admitted to fabricating recent reports of herself incurring a 260 million yuan (HK$327 million) gambling debt in Macau in an attempt to get back into the limelight.
Little of the information featured in the broadcast was new to the loyal audience of Guo’s fans, journalists and media observers were quick to note.
Critics say that state media are splashing Guo over their front pages and prime time slots at a time when China is grappling with the political fallout from an investigation into Zhou Yongkang, the Communist Party's retired security tsar, as well as an earthquake in Yunnan, a factory explosion in Jiangsu and ethnic violence in Xinjiang, each leading to three-digit death tolls.
“The conspiracy theory goes that [Beijing] wanted to distract public attention or calls for accountability over the explosion at the Zhongrong factory in Kunshan or the slaughter in Yarkant in Xinjiang,” Wen Yunchao, a US-based independent media observer, wrote in an email.
Wen said the timing could have been coincidental, but speculated that the broadcast could also be an effort to “whitewash” the Red Cross from the 2011 scandal.
The charity, unlike its counterparts in other countries who are independent from governments, has called on donors on its Weibo page “to please forget Guo Meimei” in the wake of her confession. It is providing aid to the tens of thousands affected by the earthquake in Yunnan on Sunday that so far has claimed at least 381 lives.
Zhang Ming, a professor in the political science department at Renmin University in Beijing, criticised state media for hyping Guo’s confession as rescue efforts for those trapped in rubble in Yunnan were ongoing.
“This just serves to whitewash the Red Cross,” he wrote in a microblog post. “The Red Cross is so soiled, could one single young woman have possibly smeared it [this much]?”
Guo is the latest in a series of detained celebrities paraded on national television prior to a court trial. Last year, venture capitalist and liberal blogger Charles Xue Biqun made a public confession on CCTV about how he had abused his celebrity status, after he was arrested for allegedly soliciting prostitutes in Beijing.
Watch: Chinese internet celebrity Charles Xue confessed on CCTV in 2013