SHANGHAI — Screenwriter-actress Li Qianni (aka Niu Niu) has become a household name in China since the October release of her debut film “Life, Translated.”
But her newfound fame is based less on the qualities of her acting and writing than on allegations that her father — a high-up government official in the southern town of Shenzhen — was behind efforts to force local children to see the film on school time and pay for tickets out of their own pockets.
The film, based on the 25-year-old screenwriter’s recently published memoirs, describes her experiences as a 16-year-old overseas student in a private English boarding school. Also starring Hong Kong actor Edison Chan, “Life, Translated” was released to mixed reviews in mid-October.
The flap about corruption started soon after, when parents of primary and middle school children in the Shenzhen area began to complain online about their children being forced to pay to watch the film on school time by local education authorities.
Niu Niu’s father, Li Yizhen, deputy secretary of the Communist Party in Shenzhen, heads the local propaganda department, which controls education and culture in the city.
Communist Party rules forbid government leaders’ families from doing business in districts in which they hold office, though Li’s wife is reported to be general manager of a company that acts as an agent for Chinese students wanting to study overseas, and Niu Niu herself heads a local production company.
Li took the unusual step — for a government official — of issuing an apology in early November. “My heart is heavy, and I have submitted a thorough self-examination to the city Party committee,” he was quoted as saying in the China Youth Daily, though he denies involvement in the move to make local children watch the film. An internal investigation is reported to be under way in the city.
The scandal is a particular embarrassment for Shenzhen, which just this year announced its intention to position itself at the forefront of anti-corruption efforts on the mainland.