Reality show prompts outcry over fake father-daughter relationships

Updated: 2016-11-24 10:46


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Reality show prompts outcry over fake father-daughter relationships

Olympic athlete Dong Li (right) and Cui Yahan. [Photo/IC]

A popular Chinese reality show featuring fake father-daughter pairs has been accused of showing inappropriate relationships between adults and children.

The fourth season of reality show Dad, Where Are We Going? pairs "intern" fathers, all celebrities, with children who are not their own. In previous seasons, the show only featured celebrity dads and their real children, but a government ban on the "overuse" of celebrities' children has forced the show to change.

In this season, 23-year-old Olympic athlete Dong Li is designated as "father" to 4-year-old Cui Yahan. He takes care of the little girl several days a week, eats and sleeps with her, and is present when she bathes.

The pair has spawned thousands of so-called "CP" or "couple" fans -- people who believe certain TV characters are meant to be together romantically.

They point to one scene in which Yahan tells Dong that when she grows up, she wants to marry him, as well as to an interview in which Dong says his dream girl is Arale, Yahan's nickname.

The show's production company, Mango TV, fanned the flames by posting an online video clip set to a love song and captioned "Dong and Arale's interpretation of 'Let's Fall in Love,'" referring to a famous Chinese dating show. Mango TV is the online division of Hunan TV, one of China's largest television channels.

However, the pair's popularity has triggered worries among parents and experts. Some have claimed that the popularity of the show may mislead the public about appropriate adult-child relationships and make children vulnerable.

A mother-to-be published an open letter on China's microblog service Sina Weibo, expressing her anger that the show's producers have edited the show to make the pair look like a couple.

"If she were your daughter, would you ever let her stay with a strange man wearing only underwear? Would you ever allow a 23-year-old man to tell the media that his ideal type for a girlfriend is your 3-year-old daughter?" the woman wrote.

The woman is also a volunteer with Girl Protection, a public welfare program under the Children's Safety Fund of the China Social Assistance Foundation.

Statistics from Girl Protection indicate that in 2015, the media exposed 314 cases of sexual abuse against children in China, and 85 percent of these sexual abuse cases were perpetrated by someone the child knows.

Others are quick to defend the show against the accusations.

"I don't think the pair is creepy. They are so adorable. Please don't exaggerate just to scare the public," said Weibo user "Guaishoupitaohezuoshe."

The program Dad, Where Are We Going? responded via its official account on Weibo, saying the criticisms are "over-interpreting."

"The clips of Dong's words were intended to show his paternal love, but these clips were distorted and interpreted out of context, misleading netizens and causing invisible harm to children," according to the statement.

The statement added that Dong never stays alone with the girl. Cameras are placed everywhere, and the girl has a female director to help her change her clothes and bathe, it said.

"We hope more people can focus on the innocence of the children and the paternal love of their 'intern' fathers," the statement said.

The explanation, however, has irritated some experts in the girl protection field. People took to the keyboard to demand the issue be taken seriously.

Jiang Jing, procurator at the Jinniu District Procuratorate in Chengdu city in Southwest China's Sichuan province, wrote an article on the official Minors Procuratorate account on WeChat.

To Jiang, the show sets a bad example for sex education and is too flippant in its treatment of the safety risks girls face.

"As a reality show that has been viewed up to 350 million times on the Internet, the program should have done better," Jiang said, urging the show to thoroughly weigh its influence on children and consult experts in education and child psychology.

"Child protection should be the priority when showing the intimacy and the 'love' between the 'intern' father-daughter pair," said Jiang.