Chinese young star gives up position at national theatre, denies taking shortcuts
Published: Jul 17, 2022 03:58 PM
Yi Yangqianxi Photo: Li Hao/GT

Yi Yangqianxi Photo: Li Hao/GT

Chinese pop star Yi Yangqianxi, also known as Jackson Yee, announced on Sunday that he will give up the opportunity to join the National Theatre of China and denied taking shortcuts to score the position, after the announced admission of Yi and some young stars to the national theater sparked a heated debate on Chinese social media about "celebrity privilege" and social fairness amid a tough job market.

"In the process, I never negotiated or discussed anything about a 'tailor-made' position with the teachers of the National Theatre of China, nor did I use any so-called shortcuts to get a place," Yi said through his personal Weibo account. "To avoid further trouble, I have decided to give up the position at the National Theatre of China after careful consideration," Yi said.

On July 6, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security posted on its website a shortlist of candidates for positions at the National Theatre of China, including Yi, Hu Xianxu and Luo Yizhou, all young stars. The announcement quickly became a trending topic online, with some social media users expressing understanding, while others raising questions about the recruitment process.

Also on Sunday, Hu issued a statement on his Weibo account, saying that "my application fully complied with the regulations and completed all procedures as instructed. I had three interviews and never enjoyed or exercised any privileges during the interviews."

As becoming an actor at the National Theatre of China is widely considered one of the best jobs for many art students, some social media users argued that these celebrities, who have already benefitted from super high incomes, should not have applied for these positions and "crowd out ordinary people."

In the face of mounting public skepticism, the National Theatre of China stated on July 7 that it would investigate and respond to the concerns raised. After a week of investigation, the art group released a statement on Saturday morning, claiming that the recruitment process complied with the rules and that all the admitted candidates have met the requirements.

Answering netizens' query whether he has taken the interview, Yi said that "during the whole application process, I completely complied with the recruitment notice and examination requirements of the theatre. I took the examinations three times on April 14, April 25 and May 2, respectively. The third exam was scheduled to be held offline, but due to the epidemic situation in Beijing at that time, I truthfully reported that I could not take the offline exam due to epidemic prevention and control. Upon approval and confirmation by the National Theatre of China, I took the online exam organized by the theater on May 2."

Looking back on the whole controversy, it can be noted that social media users are not opposing the entry of celebrities into the recruitment system, but opposing privilege and safeguarding social fairness, especially as the employment pressure is very prominent given the epidemic, experts said. 

Yi's decision not to join the National Theater may be the "best choice" to quell the controversy, Xiong Bingqi, a deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, told the Global Times on Sunday, adding that if Yi insists on taking the job, he will face questions, which will eventually be harmful to his acting career. 

Public opinion over the recruitment of stars is focused on not only the question of the fairness and impartiality, but also the current severe employment situation and the high youth unemployment rate, Xiong said.

Some social media users also noted the pressure of employment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has already been growing among ordinary people. "At a time like this, entertainment stars who are admitted to the national organization to enjoy this kind of welfare without even going through a written test affects social fairness," one netizen commented.

"Despite Yi's admission by the National Theatre not having direct connection with ordinary netizens, giving a prestigious work opportunity to a star with fame and a high income still looks unfair in the eyes of many young people. The attitude of the public opinion behind this is understandable," Xiong noted.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's surveyed urban unemployment rate has fallen for two consecutive months in June to 5.5 percent. However, the surveyed unemployment rate for those between 16 and 24 years old continued to climb, hitting a record high of 19.3 percent.

Given the serious employment situation, Chinese authorities have taken a slew of measures to stabilize jobs, particularly youth employment. A State Council's Executive Meeting on Wednesday stressed that the government must continue to put employment front and center, and pay close attention to the employment of key groups, particularly college graduates and migrant workers.