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Celebrity scandal exposes surrogacy discontent in China

25 January 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1080

Chinese actor Zheng Shuang has been dropped from her professional partnerships, including her role as brand ambassador for fashion house Prada, after being embroiled in a surrogacy scandal. 

Zheng is being accused of undertaking a surrogacy agreement with her ex-partner, actor Zhang Heng, but then decided to abandon her two surrogate children in the United States, leaving him to take care of them alone. The case has sparked debate around surrogacy in China, where it is illegal.

Zhang posted on Chinese microblogging platform, Weibo, that he had gone to the United States to care for their two abandoned children. News outlets noticed that Zheng had never appeared to be pregnant in public, so sourced the children's birth certificates and found the two children were born one month apart, clearly indicating the use of a surrogacy arrangement by the couple.  

Phone conversations of Zheng discussing her future surrogate children were then leaked to the press. She was allegedly heard to be complaining that 'it's impossible to abort a fetus when it's seven months old.'

What started as a mere celebrity scandal has opened the conversation around the moralities and legalities of surrogacy in China. The state-run media and China's Communist Party legal group all expressed an opinion on the story and emphasised why surrogacy should continue to be forbidden. 

The Communist Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission highlighted in a Weibo post that Zhang was 'taking advantage of legal loopholes' in US law, and that surrogacy exploited women and used their uteruses as a 'commodity.'

Surrogacy services are illegal within China, but there is no law to ban Chinese nationals from seeking surrogacy arrangements elsewhere. With a change in social norms following China's relaxation of their one-child policy, rising infertility, and same-sex couples seeking families, overseas fertility treatment is becoming increasingly popular for those with the means. 

While outrage towards the couple and anger regarding surrogacy has been rife, it has also highlighted the growing scepticism towards China's limitations on reproductive techniques. Women's rights activists, academics and other groups are beginning to question China's strict rules over reproductive rights, referring to the previous one-child policy whereby forced abortions and government intrusion were the norm.

Some groups have also expressed anger that only Zheng is in the firing line rather than her partner. Feng Yuan, a women's rights activist and co-founder of a women's rights non-profit group in Beijing, China, said 'The main topic of the debate is about surrogacy, but Shuang seems to be the only target, and netizens avoid Heng'.

Zheng has since released a statement. She expressed that she is 'saddened' that the details of her personal life were being 'exposed to the public with ulterior motives in mind, [and she] followed the law while on Chinese soil and respected all laws while overseas.' 

A Chinese celebrity scandal puts surrogate births on trial
New York Times |  20 January 2021
Prada drops Chinese actress over allegations she abandoned surrogate children
The Telegraph |  20 January 2021
Prada drops Chinese brand ambassador following surrogacy controversy
Marketing |  21 January 2021
Surrogacy abandonment scandal captivates and enrages Chinese social media
Radii China |  21 January 2021
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