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Chinese crosstalk star denounces master on Weibo, triggering debate on traditional norms

Cao Yunjin (left) and Guo Degang Photo: Weibo

A Chinese crosstalk star’s denouncement of his master on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, has triggered a discussion over traditional teacher-student relationship in China.

The 30-year-old crosstalk star, Cao Yunjun, released a long article on his Weibo page on September 5 accusing his 43-year-old former teacher, Guo Degang, of exploiting him during an apprenticeship. Guo is China’s most famous crosstalk celebrity.

In the article, Cao accused his former teacher of traditional Chinese art of making unfair demand such as doing housework, and sharing the rent.

“It’s time to make a conclusion (to our relationship). … Your world is full of evil, but mine is sunshine. Since our ‘ways’ are different, there is no reason for us to meet any longer”, Cao said in the beginning of the article.

The 7,000-word article (in mandarin) came after Guo on August 31 accused two of his students, Cao Yunjin and He Yunwei, of disobeying and betraying him. Guo also announced that he would “cleanse his courtyard” and expel the two “astonishingly shameless students” from his crosstalk school. He even accused Cao of “betraying his teacher for gold”.

Crosstalk, or xiangsheng (相声) in Chinese, a traditional Chinese comedy performance generally believed to have originated in late Qing dynasty, involves a dialogue between two performers using rich language and puns.

Although the contents of the dialogue have changed along with changes in society, the inheritance system, in which skills are transmitted to younger generations through individual or small group teaching, has continued throughout the centuries.

Under the traditional system, students have to follow certain code of conduct stipulated by the teacher or the founding father of the class. The most well-known code of conduct is “one who is a master for one day, will be a father forever”, which makes the traditional teacher-student relationship embody some sort of filial piety besides pure learning.

In Cao’s article, he said one of the reasons for the conflict between him and Guo was trying to find a middle ground with Guo, as Guo made him act in two of his films with little or no payment. He also said that Guo should not “morally kidnap” his students, but instead give them more freedom to pursue their personal career.

Only in three days, Cao’s article has been viewed for over 500 million times on Sina Weibo with over 358,000 comments under the article and over 238,000 times of forwarding. Guo, however, who has closed the function of commenting on his Weibo page, has not responded to Cao’s article yet.

Under the hashtag Guo Degang Cleanse His Courtyard and Cao Yunjin Split Up with Guo Degang, which have been viewed for over 500 million times and 100 million times within days, most users showed their support for Cao.

According to a poll under hashtag of Guo Degang Cleanse His Courtyard, 52.3% of the over 230,000 voters expressed their support for Cao, while only 11.7% voted for Guo.

“It is true that a one-day teacher is a lifetime father, but even your own son will rebel if you control and suppress him too much.” “Holding people hostage in the name of morality is immoral in itself, and don’t forget that Cao did pay tuition. Guo is just a teacher, nothing more,” supporters of Cao commented on Weibo.

The China Youth Daily, a state-owned newspaper, even published a commentary on September 7 suggesting that the traditional teacher-student relationship be adjusted to modern times.

However, while there is only a small proportion of users showing their support for Guo, some did defend the traditional teacher-student relationship in xiangsheng, and asked Cao to be grateful to his teacher.

“Nothing can be accomplished without norms or standards. A person should never forget where he came from, and have a grateful heart,” one commented.

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