Mother of pop star dating Vancouver mayor could face death penalty in China for allegedly embezzling $69M
Postmedia Network
First posted: Friday, August 05, 2016 08:16 PM EDT | Updated: Friday, August 05, 2016 08:27 PM EDT
Vancouver-based Chinese pop-singer Wanting Qu — once a darling on Chinese social media such as Weibo and WeChat — is facing a wave of criticism from the country’s netizens stemming from her support of her mother, who is accused of embezzlement and potentially facing the death penalty in China.
Qu, who has been dating Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson since 2015, hasn't spoken publicly about the trial of mother Zhang Mingjie, which concluded in late July. But the singer did issue a statement through Weibo on July 27, as well as releasing two songs — Your Girl and Best Plan — which imply her reaction to Zhang’s arrest.
“Embezzling 350 million Chinese yuan ($69 million) is what the prosecutors say, and they have the right to prosecute,” Qu wrote in Chinese in the Weibo statement.
“But whether or not there’s a conviction is up to the court … (Chinese law says) before the court decision no one is to determine someone’s guilty or not. I believe in the legal process, and that they will give mom a fair and just judgment.”
The absence of a final verdict, however, has not stemmed online commentary from the Chinese community. Comments on the two newly released songs on Qu’s YouTube channel has been disabled, but the negative reaction to Qu and Zhang has manifested elsewhere in the Chinese cybersphere. On Weibo, the hashtag “Wanting Qu’s mother on trial” has generated 30.8 million views in the last month, with the overwhelming majority of the commentators angry with Qu’s support of Zhang.
The main qualm Chinese netizens have with Qu is her comments last year to the University of B.C.'s alumni magazine, Trek. In the report, Qu identified her mom has her childhood hero, saying Zhang “has given me the best life I can have, no matter what struggles she went through to do it.”
“I thought the embezzlement case was already egregious, but then she (Qu) is now praying for her mom, regardless of where the money came from,” read a post from user Mrs-Hiddlleston on the Weibo hashtag page. “I’m running out of words to yell at her … ”
Another posting from a Weibo user named Yang said Qu wasn't wrong in supporting her mother, but also took issue with the “hero” comment: “Most moms are heroes, working hard to give their best to their kids ... you have to be considerate of all the victimized retired labourers. You shouldn’t use your celebrity status to publicize your feelings like this.”
Elsewhere, criticism of Qu has popped up in discussion forums and mainstream Chinese media editorials, with some even spilling over to Canadian-based outlets catering to the Chinese community, such as Info 51 and iAsk.ca.
Zhang, a former official at the city of Harbin, is accused of embezzling the money when she worked on the transfer of a state-controlled farm to private ownership in 2009. Chinese media says Zhang and her co-accused allegedly doctored the sale — eventually to a real estate company building a housing project — while leaving hundreds of workers living on the land with severely undervalued severance packages and “appalling” living conditions. Zhang has denied any wrongdoing.
Yves Tiberghien, director at UBC’s Institute of Asian Research, said the public anger seen on social media partly stems from media reports that Zhang staunchly argued her innocence during her trial, incensing the Chinese public. Qu’s comment in Trek likely further inflamed those sentiments, he said.
“Because so much information on her mom’s case in Harbin and the improper sale of a big farm were released to the public in China — admittedly without the same kind of scrutiny we would have in Canada — there is a lot of public anger at the case,” Tiberghien said. “The Chinese public expect either an apology or contrition."
While China’s current anti-corruption campaign is seen skeptically abroad, Beijing’s effort to crack down on municipal and regional officials has been very popular within China, added Tiberghien, which further explains Chinese netizens' willingness to comment. (Zhang’s arrest is seen as part of the campaign.)
“Although I cannot assess in any way the case of Wanting Qu’s mother, the fact that she is high on the anti-corruption campaign list makes her a target for public opinion in China,” Tiberghien said. “The anti-corruption campaign has also hit that sort of popular nerve, at a time when young people are having a harder time getting access to property or getting ahead.”
A photo of singer Wanting Qu and her mother, posted by Qu to social media. (Postmedia Network Merlin Archive / zhangqin.net)

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