A popular television show has been criticized for its depiction of a Chinese Olympic athlete and his “daughter.”
A Chinese reality TV show has come under fire for pairing celebrities with children who are not their own and filming them in intimate scenes, including sharing beds and bathing scenes.
The controversy is centered on the fourth season of Dad, Where Are We Going? (爸爸去哪儿, which includes a so-called “parent internship” for 23-year-old Olympic fencer Dong Li, and his four-year-old “daughter,” Arale.
The show, which premiered on Oct. 7 on Hunan TV, earned the ire of some viewers after scenes showing Dong bathing the girl, whose real name is Cui Yahan, as well as sharing a bed with her.
Previous seasons of the show, which is a remake of a Korean format, saw city-dwelling celebrity dads accompanying their own children on skill-building trips in remote areas of the country.
A film version of the hit reality TV program produced by Enlight Media among others, earned RMB 697 million (US$101 million) at the box office in 2014 and was followed up the next year by a sequel, this time produced by Le Vision Pictures, which pulled in RMB 223 million ($32 million).
The franchise seemed doomed earlier this year when China’s media watchdog, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, announced a ban on the children of celebrities from appearing on reality television.
At the time, the regulators said minors should be kept out of the spotlight to allow them to enjoy a normal childhood.
The current iteration of the show appears to have side-stepped the new rules by pairing “intern Dads” with children unrelated to them, giving the popular show a new lease of life, but also creating a new controversy for itself.
In one scene, the child tells the Olympian that she wants to marry him when she grows up, in another Dong says that she is his dream girl. Promotional photos featuring the pair have included shots of them kissing on the lips.
A Weibo post from the show’s official account which used inappropriate wording was deleted after an online backlash. The show has spawned a proliferation of fan fiction online that depict the two as boyfriend and girlfriend with some including sexually suggestive storylines.
Criticism on social media has come from all quarters, including a child protection charity under the umbrella of the China Foundation of Culture and Arts for Children, and an official social media account of the country’s powerful Public Security Bureau.
Responding to the criticism, the show released a statement to local media calling on viewers to have “goodwill” towards the show and “put an end to malicious conjecture and demonization.”
The show assured viewers that bathing, dressing and anything of a private nature is handled by a female crew member.
In July 2015 the media watchdog derided the shows as “interesting” but not “meaningful” and warned that they don’t express “social values” and sometimes spread incorrect values or feature vulgar content.
Despite the warnings, Chinese television remains awash with reality TV shows, numbering more than 100. Nine out of 10 of the most popular variety shows this year have been reality shows, according to Entertainment industry consulting firm Ent Group.