If dating an 18 year old at 30 is okay, is dating a 12 year old okay at 24?

Meet Miki Akama, the twelve year-old model from Canada. While she was eight, 20-year-old amateur music instructor and Chinese pop star Zhang Muyi was hired to be her coach. What happened within four years is more of a mystery to us onlookers; but whatever happened, the two have since publicly exchanged mutual declarations of love.

I suppose if this was a teacher in her actual school, he would not only be fired but perhaps arrested, if there was suspicion of any sexual contact. I’m a surprised that there’s no report of what their families said; and I’m also quite surprised that there was no uproar about the fact that she’s a Japanese Canadian and he’s Chinese – China has been pretty angry about all things Japanese recently, so I was expecting a louder reaction. Or maybe they were all just in awe of this international love? Regardless, there are a lot of emotions reported from the public.

The Cute Couple?

I do admit, the pictures above were the first two I had seen of them, and my first reaction to the one on the left was “well… that’s kind of cute.” I subsequently saw the picture on the right and I was a little less sure…

And then I saw this next picture and I practically shit myself.

One of these things is not like the other

Wow… there’s definitely something a little creepy about seeing them close-up together in a well-lit room – probably her house.

This age difference is definitely not common in Canadian culture, though it’s not as strange in Eastern cultures. But when I say “not as strange,” I’m not saying “not strange.” This is eye-catching no matter where you come from. Her being 16 when he’s 28 is actually not particularly uncommon in places like Japan, but that’s four years from now.

And guess who’s looking forward to the sweet sixteen?

“I simply can’t wait for these next four birthdays of yours to pass,” Muyi said on the microblogging Chinese site Weibo (similar to Twitter). “I’m counting down each one.” And I’m sure she appreciates that, having probably just learnt subtraction herself.

The Lengths Taken for Love

Some are not even sure that this story is real, saying that it’s probably a publicity stunt. For example, the two started following each other on Weibo for just a short time. The recent public announcement of their relationship has also coincided with several music videos, including one where they perform together. This publicity was probably the cause of an increase in fandom for the two of them by almost a million people in just a few weeks.

But would marketers really go to this level just to push their clients? And would the clients really agree to that? I’m not sure, but I doubt a 24 year old would lie about something like that. TheAge had been reporting this case, mentioning several comments made online by others:

Whatever the case, one can’t help but feel extremely uncomfortable at the power imbalance between this very young, 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 careers.

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

One commenter said: ”How many girls born in the ’90s will find it hard to sleep at night, after getting this news?” The implication being that a woman should land a man as soon as possible to avoid competition from younger women – even if those women are under-age girls.

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

As another commenter said, rather dryly: ”Next time he should just go directly to a kindergarten to pick himself a truly innocent and pure little girlfriend.”

Maybe that last commenter is right – maybe it won’t work out, and maybe Muyi will have to look for someone else. If that’s the case, I’m sure Miki will have plenty of time to find a boyfriend closer to her age, because she’s young, cute, and talented. As for Muyi, he may be able to find love nearby after all! Making the news rounds recently was a $65 million reward to whomever marries one stubborn Honk Kong man’s daughter. She’s in a happy relationship already, but her father can’t handle the fact that it’s with a girl. That’s right, he’s trying to pay someone an absurd amount of money to have her totally normal, gorgeous, lesbian daughter, marry a man. Love at first paycheck; it’s a beautiful thing.

The Bottom Line

Are we judging the two too soon? Woody Allen, the famous American comic, has had a public relationship with his former stepdaughter for around two decades now. Though there was a lot of media hounding them in the beginning, it all just seems relatively pointless now, when you consider that this love match actually worked out, and the two never split, and it wasn’t some disturbing fetishized episode of purely physical attraction.

There was no coercion and they both love each other, so in the end perhaps it was just an unusual case, but probably nothing like what the papers were saying. Last year, Allen said “What was the scandal? I fell in love with this girl, married her. We have been married for almost 15 years now. There was no scandal, but people refer to it all the time as a scandal.” Perhaps the situation is the same here, insofar as there is no sexual contact yet (which would constitute pedophilia for Muyi).

Obviously many (probably most) people are outright disgusted by this, but not everyone. While some accept this only with trepidation, the support that their fans give them may indicate that times are simply changing. If there’s such a lack of outcry over this, then perhaps there will be a trend of bigger age-gaps in couples until it normalizes. Then, maybe, this kind of story won’t even become news anymore – it’ll be too common. But when you play the numbers game (is a 14-year old too young for a 16 year old to date? 17? 18? What age is the limit?) it soon falls apart when you consider the mental and physical development of each individual. There are plenty of 19 year olds who seem about as mature as other 16 year olds. It’s all relative, and it’s complicated. Psychology and law tend not to be as simple as a numbers game.

So at least for now, we can merely consider the words that the lovestruck Miki left on Muyi’s Weibo page, with hope, apathy, bewilderment, disgust, or whatever else you feel when you read this:

Wait until I’m old enough to marry you, and then I’m going to say “I do”.

Indeed. I’m sure marriage is what’s really on their minds.

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