|Actor Wen Zhang and his actress wife Ma Yili attend a film festival in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, in 2012. Wen made headlines recently after he admitted having an affair with another actress. (Xinhua Photo)|
China's rapid economic development has been accompanied by an increasingly open attitude toward sexual matters, leading to greater public indifference about extramarital affairs among celebrities.
Link: Celebrity cheating scandal boosts marriage insurance in China
However, the power to shock remains.
A recent case in point is that of Wen Zhang, a well-known actor who has admitted having an affair with an actress. On Sunday night, the 30-year-old posted a message of apology to his wife on Sina Weibo, confirming rumors that had been circulating on the Internet for several days.
Within 24 hours, Wen's message had received 1 million comments and had been reposted a million times. Most of the comments expressed anger toward a man who had previously been regarded as a model husband.
The public perception of Wen as a happily married man had been built through his habit of posting photos of him kissing his wife, actress Ma Yili, or expressing his devotion on TV chat shows. As a heavily pregnant Ma accepted a best actress award at the Changchun Film Festival in 2008, she received an affectionate text message from Wen. Moved to tears, Ma could only utter the words, "Thank you, my love".
"It's hard to believe that a man who loved his wife so deeply could break his pledge and cheat all those people who trusted him so much," wrote one micro-blogger called "Baby Cat".
"All this news about divorce or sex scandals involving public figures means it's barely possible to believe in love anymore," she wrote.
According to Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Renmin University of China, the growing public acceptance of sex scandals and extramarital affairs involving public figures should not be misinterpreted as indifference to traditional values.
"This does not mean people have changed their negative perception of the nature of affairs. People are aware that the media has created many false 'virtuous gods' and therefore they are no longer shocked by news of this kind," Zhou said.
He added that pop stars, actors, and even government officials are now public figures: "When their lives are played out in full view of the public, they need to be transparent or problems will arise. In particular, Wen has always portrayed himself as a good husband and father. Naturally, this image has formed a sort of public credibility and when that's damaged, the public figure has to pay the price."
Even though public opinion appears to have come down firmly in favor of Ma - a 38-year-old who gave birth to her second daughter in February - the divorce rate is rising rapidly.
Statistics from Beijing Maple Women's Psychological Consulting Center show that the number of consultations involving divorced couples or those on the verge of divorce doubled from 1992 to 2013, with nearly 50 percent of the cases related to unfaithful husbands.