The Wall Street Journal

Unhappy Birthday: CCTV Questions Zhang Ziyi’s Quake Donations

February 10, 2010   |   Written by Sky Canaves

On Tuesday, Zhang Ziyi’s 31st birthday, state broadcaster CCTV devoted a 20-minute segment on one of its nightly news programs to what it portrayed as a brewing scandal surrounding the actress: that she failed to honor her pledge to donate one million yuan ($146,000) to relief charities in the aftermath of the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Why is China’s most powerful media outlet taking aim at its most famous female star? Zhang must be wondering.

The celebrity’s trouble began on the Internet late last month, when a post on the popular Tianya site reported that Zhang had donated just 840,000 yuan to quake relief, or 160,000 yuan less than promised. On Monday, her manager issued a public apology (in Chinese here), saying the shortfall had been the result of careless management and that the remaining amount had been paid as soon as the discrepancy had been confirmed. The Chinese Red Cross Foundation also came to Zhang’s defense Monday, saying it has received the full million yuan donation it was promised.

Netizens started to question Zhang’s other charitable efforts. After the earthquake, Zhang continued fundraising at the Cannes Film Festival, and some Chinese media have reported that she raised as much $2 million, fueling further speculation over where the money has gone. Zhang’s manager responded that only $500,000 had been collected by Zhang’s U.S.-based charitable foundation, of which $400,000 was committed tothe U.K. Care for Children, a charitable organization registered in the U.S., U.K. and Hong Kong.

The Tuesday CCTV segment on “News 1+1” was titled “’Fake Donation-Gate’ Turns into ‘Rashomon.’” (In China, the reference to the Kurosawa film—a cinematic study of the subjectivity of memory—often implies that a person is telling a lie to cover up another lie.) The CCTV segment notes continuing doubts about Zhang’s sincerity and raises questions about the activities of her U.S. charity. A lengthy discussion with various commentators ensues discussing Zhang’s case and the broader implications for charities.

Zhang is no stranger to media attacks in her home country. In the past, she has been criticized for everything from having a Western boyfriend, Israeli venture capitalist Vivi Nevo, to playing a Japanese character in the Hollywood film version of “Memoirs of a Geisha,” to allegedly lip-synching during CCTV’s annual televised Spring Festival gala. Now CCTV itself seems to be taking its turn, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear.