The child and the pop star

Akama Miki  and Zhang Muyi post pictures of themselves together regularly for adoring fans.

Akama Miki and Zhang Muyi post pictures of themselves together regularly for adoring fans.

Akama Miki is a cute, 12-year-old child model from Canada with close to 500,000 followers on her Weibo page (China's version of Twitter). The only person she follows is 24-year-old Chinese pop singer Zhang Muyi to whom she posts lovesick messages, such as: "Wait until I'm old enough to marry you, and then I'm going to say 'I do.' "

The everyday scribblings of a young girl with a crush? Think again. The message was written in response to Zhang Muyi's own post featuring a photo of Miki pinching him playfully on the cheek and the message: "Today we're super happy, laughing, being crazy, had a nap and practised singing. I said to Miki, 'I'm going to be with you as you grow, I'll always wait for you.' "

Both of their accounts are filled with photos of the couple running on the beach, working in the studio, eating birthday cake and curled up next to each other on a sofa. They frequently declare their love for each other, with Zhang Muyi saying on Miki's recent 12th birthday, "I simply can't wait for these next four birthdays of yours to pass, I'm counting down each one." After which, presumably, she'll be of legal age.

Is the relationship even real? Akama Miki and Zhang Muyi pose for the cameras.

Is the relationship even real? Akama Miki and Zhang Muyi pose for the cameras.

The most popular post has Miki in a midriff top and jeans on the beach pointing upwards. Zhang Muyi stands disconcertingly two heads taller than her with his finger joining hers - a "kiss", of sorts. An overwhelming number of the 8800 comments show messages of support, wishing them good luck, and enraptured by their romance.

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uu_wong says: "Love knows no boundaries, a 12-year-old with a 24-year-old is not a big deal."

Admittedly many of these commenters appear, themselves, to be young boys and girls. There are also a number of detractors who express shock and label the "relationship" as "unnatural".

But is the relationship even real? Many internet citizens sniffed a rat.

王洁—jean: "You guys just want to be famous. If it were real love, you wouldn't feel the need to talk about it on Weibo. You're no different to those celebrities engaging in sex scandals."

Case in point, they only follow each other and have been on Weibo for a relatively short time. And, coinciding with the recent announcement of their relationship, has been the release of several music videos, including their new cover of the ballad Pretty Boy.

The video begins with Miki drawing both her name and Zhang Muyi's in childish writing (she is 12 after all) and then singing heavy lyrics such as: "I sneak a look at your face and my heart becomes like a clear day."

Zhang Muyi sings in response: "Your strengths, your flaws, I want to love them all."

Their next single is aptly named, Courageous Love.

Zhang Muyi responded to calls that their relationship was nothing but a publicity stunt with a post saying: "Many people have doubted us and our love story. There's nothing we can do about this, nor do we feel the need to prove anything to these people. All we can do is continue to persevere with our love, our life, and being together."

Staged or not, it's telling that such a relationship has, as a marketing strategy, been successful, with the pair accruing three-quarters of a million fans in a matter of weeks. And, as devious and creative as PR companies in Australia and America are, I'm pretty certain few would be willing to gamble with as strategy as outrageous as this.

The difference is that, as anyone who has been to East Asia will know, the region is deep in the cult of cute.

"Sexy" is inevitably "Cute-Sexy" rather than "Sexy-Sexy" with models decorated in fluffy cat ears, winking coquettishly and hands held in heart shapes. This infantilisation reveals a pressure placed on women to always maintain an appearance of purity and innocence.

But in the case of Miki and her older man, one must question if this is even a case of "Cute-Sexy". When I presented this story to one of my friends, a rather sweet and by no means atypical 23-year-old Chinese girl, she couldn't understand my repulsion.

She replied: "Of course if they're having sex that's wrong. But maybe they just get each other. Maybe they're really in love."

Her words seemed to point to my own lack of innocence in even presuming there was a physical angle to their romance. And a cynicism in my disbelief that they could possibly, remotely, be "in love".

Whatever the case, one cannot help but feel extremely uncomfortable (if not completely grossed out) by the power imbalance between this very young, undoubtedly impressionable and emotionally immature child - compared with her much older, experienced boyfriend. And worst of all, the very public way in which their relationship is playing out and being used to launch their respective careers.

And yet few commenters painted Miki as a victim of any kind. Instead, as Liz Carter of Tea Leaf Nation points out, some even view her as a sort of rival.

@魔鬼心计学 said: "A girl born after 2000 is getting married. Those of you born in the '70s, '80s, and '90s: What do you have to say for yourself?"

Wondered @Lazy的天涯: "How many girls born in the '90s will find it hard to sleep at night, after getting this news?" The implication was that a woman should land a man as soon as possible to avoid competition from younger women – even if those younger women are underage girls.

Such comments are a product of the immense pressure on women in China to marry, usually by the mid-to-late 20s. It stems from traditional values around the family and has been exacerbated by the one-child policy in which only children are burdened to become the sole offspring to carry the family line. And these still unmarried "leftover women", as they're called, read this story and see a world gone mad.

As commenter 小纯洁男 said rather dryly: "Next time he should just go directly to a kindergarten to pick himself a truly innocent and pure little girlfriend."

51 comments

  • I find it hard to understand a society where this kind of behaviour doesn't make the male in the "relationship" an instant social pariah. I assume her parents are also condoning it to a certain extent? How does a 12 year old become a "child model" with 500,000 followers anyway? Super creepy.

    Commenter
    rl
    Location
    LA
    Date and time
    September 25, 2012, 9:21AM
    • Well in China they don't see "love" as the same as "sex". They don't see a 24 year old and a 12 year old hanging out together as a sexual issue.

      We live in a society where a man isn't even allowed to sit next to children on planes because someone they will end up having sex, while in China most Chinese adults people are expected to be able to act like adults.

      So from a Western point of view we see this as something sick and wrong because our assumption is that sex is automatically involved while in China (where it still illegal for university students to have sex) they assume that they are not having sex.

      All these judgements lie completely outside of the facts, so I personally reserve judgement without those facts.

      Commenter
      Flingebunt
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 3:10PM
  • Does China have child welfare departments in its civil service?
    One would like to assume so.If this was occuring in in the West, a child welfare officer would be down on this creepy guy like a ton of bricks.I would like to hear as soon as possible that a child welfare officer has stepped in and broken up this relationship and if necessary taken this child into care and well away fom her incompetent arents.

    And where may I ask is this girls parents?What sort of people are they??

    A creepy gross out story.Why on earth would anyone buy of listen to this creeps music after this??

    Commenter
    Malcolm
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    September 25, 2012, 9:22AM
    • I read she was Canadian.

      Commenter
      Hmmmm
      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 2:23PM
  • Yeah, like any adult would take these two seriously. Let them do what they like, so long as it remains hands off, and let the natural order sort itself out. As they both grow up they'll change, get bored of it and break up within a year. In the meantime, publicity stunt or not, leave them be.

    Commenter
    Bloke
    Location
    China
    Date and time
    September 25, 2012, 9:24AM
    • When Elvis first met Priscilla, she was 14 and he was 24.

      Just sayin'.

      Commenter
      Art
      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 9:33AM
      • So true about Elvis and Priscilla.

        About eight years separate my boyfriend and I. Which is fine at our age. But I don't think that if I had met him at the age of twelve, that I should be allowed to date a 20 year old. A supervised friendship maybe, but nothing more.

        Commenter
        hd
        Location
        Tokyo, Japan
        Date and time
        September 25, 2012, 12:23PM
    • Would it be different if they were white westerners?

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      North Sydney
      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 9:37AM
      • Yes. He'd be in jail, or under police investigation. At the very least there would be such a social outcry that they would have to go into hiding. The "everything is all the same everywhere", postmodern political correctness is not going to work here, I'm afraid.

        Commenter
        Riz
        Location
        AUS
        Date and time
        September 25, 2012, 11:04AM
      • Um, yeah, it'd be illegal.

        Commenter
        Jimmy
        Location
        Melbs
        Date and time
        September 25, 2012, 11:11AM

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