Singer Wang Leehom’s marriage scandal sheds light on protection of ‘desperate housewives’
Published: Dec 19, 2021 10:54 PM
Chinese-American singer-songwriter Wang Leehom (right) and his ex-wife Li Jinglei Photo: VCG

Chinese-American singer-songwriter Wang Leehom (right) and his ex-wife Lee Jinglei Photo: VCG

A "bloody" long letter accusing Chinese-American singer-songwriter Wang Leehom - who has been popular as a high-quality idol - of having extramarital affairs, soliciting prostitutes and emotionally abusing his ex-wife once again cast a public spotlight on the unethical behavior of Chinese celebrities. But this time, it is more than that. 

The letter, written by Wang's ex-wife Lee Jinglei, touched most netizens with its clear logic, eloquent sentences and high degree of empathy. Many netizens said no wonder she could write such a convincing letter as she was a typical "straight A student" in China. 

The spats, twists and tragic marriage of this couple pointed to a more thought-provoking issue: the "desperate" situation of housewives.

Media reports said Lee got her bachelor's degree at Princeton University and postgraduate degree at Columbia University in the US. After graduation, she became an analyst at J.P. Morgan and won a huge promotion in two years. 

However, such a smart woman quit her high-paid job, became a housewife and gave birth to three children in five years after marrying Wang, who is 10 years older, when she was 27. In the letter, she describes her eight-year life of roles as a "wife, mother, babysitter, driver and assistant" who was devoted to taking care of her children 24 hours a day. It is "no time off, no pay." 

As Lee claimed in her letter, her story indeed sounded a timely alert to other women in China. Several women's rights advocates told the Global Times that despite the rise in the chances of Chinese women being educated and participating in the workplace, it is still hard to reverse society's stereotype that it is a woman's job to take care of the family. 

They said Lee's case is a bitter lesson for many Chinese women who are ready to give up their career for their family, and society should do more to recognize and compensate women for work they perform at home.  

In the latest developments on the brawl, Wang's father Wang Ta-chung issued a handwritten defense of Leehom, claiming that Lee had used pregnancy to force his son into marriage. Lee argued back with detailed evidence on Sunday morning and asked Leehom to apologize or else she would take legal action against both. 

Wang responded on his Sina Weibo account on Sunday night, clarifying that he had been living under the shadow of horror, blackmail and threat for almost six years until they separated. Wang said they were seeing therapists but failed to solve their problems. He denied being unfaithful to his wife and said that he finally compromised to Lee's demands by giving her 150 million yuan and additional life expenses.

Lee's fight also drew netizens from the Chinese mainland and the island of Taiwan together, with both throwing their support behind Lee, urging Leehom to take responsibility for his misdeeds and demanding compensation for Lee's time as a "full-time housewife." 

A commentary published by China Women's News on Sunday said "it is a personal choice to be a full-time housewife, but it is still the safest choice for women to participate in the workplace and retain their competitiveness."

If a woman chooses to leave the workplace, it is unclear whether she could maintain financial and psychological independence, whether she could get enough respect from taking care of the house, whether she could feel security and equality in the family, whether she could be protected when she got hurt, and whether she could have a chance to return to the workplace.

It will also depend on the continuous improvement of the social security system and the progress of gender civilization in society, the newspaper said. 

In February, a divorce court in Beijing ordered a husband to pay his wife more than 50,000 yuan ($7,700) in compensation for the housework she performed during five years of marriage. This ruling was hailed as a landmark decision that gender quality advocates hope will lead to greater protection for women in China.