Chinese starlet marries Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang

The cover girl for top fashion magazines or an upcoming star in the entertainment industry?

Speculation is rife on the Chinese Internet about the future career of Ge Tian, a starlet who has been a newsmaker for the past few days after the announcement of her marriage to Chinese track star Liu Xiang.

Liu, the Chinese Olympic gold medalist and world champion in 110-meter hurdles, posted a photograph of himself and Ge intimately leaning against a hurdle on his Tencent micro blog on Sept 9.

The picture, with the caption reading, "my beloveds, it and her", was also posted on Ge's Sina Weibo on the same day, with the caption: "the person I love most, and the person who loves me most".

An earlier image, which has gone viral online since Sept 8, shows Liu carrying flowers and walking on the red carpet with Ge, while a woman is taking photographs of them.

The website reported that the image was circulated by an anonymous witness and Liu's father confirmed that his son registered with Ge for marriage at the Shanghai Civil Affair Bureau on Sept 7.

Numerous reports in the domestic media reveal that Ge, a graduate of the Central Academy of Drama - an incubator for celebrities such as actresses Zhang Ziyi and Tang Wei, has worked as a cover girl and inside-page model for fashion magazines, including CITYIN and the Chinese edition of the UK-based FHM (For Him Magazine).

Ji Fenhua, Liu's mother, says that Ge is currently working as a professional actress at a TV series production centre affiliated to the People's Liberation Army.

She reveals that Ge has dated her son since 2012, when Liu's London Olympic bid failed after he suffered a serious heel injury.

But amid the sudden onslaught of information on Ge, some online bloggers speculate that the couple may be making use of the exposure for commercial purposes.

Zheng Ye, director of the new media department of Bona Film Group, says that stars nowadays are becoming "smarter", and release news of their private lives in advance, normally through the Internet, to reduce the gossip churned up by the paparazzi.

"There is a marketing team standing behind a star. It usually holds the news until the last minute and then releases it online, usually through the star's personal micro blog, which can easily establish a close-to-fans image and will definitely benefit the star's career," says the veteran with 10 years' experience in celebrity marketing.

But other insiders say they doubt such self-promotion was behind the online frenzy in Ge's case.

Wu Juan, founder of Let Media, a Shanghai-based PR agency specialising in Internet marketing, says that Ge, an unfamiliar face to the public but now attached to rumours of cosmetic surgeries and two ex-boyfriends, may not appear "good enough" for Liu in the eyes of his fans.

"The controversy of Ge's identity has pushed netizens to launch a 'cyber hunt' for the men in her life, which may explain why a lot of her private life has quickly leaked out on Internet," Wu says.

"But in line with the current evidence, we prefer to believe it's not a pre-designed marketing campaign as very few celebrities will choose negative options that may embarrass them."