April 24, 2009
Jackie Chan Strikes a Chinese Nerve
By ANDREW JACOBS
BEIJING — Jackie Chan, the Hong Kong martial arts star well known for showing his own failed stunts at the end of his films, may have another blooper to his credit.
When Mr. Chan told a high-level gathering of Chinese government officials and business leaders last weekend that Chinese people were ill equipped to handle liberty, he found himself on the receiving end of a verbal thrashing from across the Chinese-speaking world that is still reverberating.
“I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled,” Mr. Chan said during the Boao Forum, the annual economic conference held on Hainan Island with a keynote speech by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. “If we are not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”
The response was strongest in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which Mr. Chan, one of Asia’s wealthiest and best-known entertainers, held out as particularly “chaotic.” But even some intellectuals in mainland China spoke out against stereotyping Chinese as people who crave authoritarian leadership.
Apple Daily, one of Hong Kong’s biggest newspapers, used its front page to anoint him “a knave.” Politicians in Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that China claims as sovereign territory, described him as “idiotic” and “ignorant.” Albert Ho, a Hong Kong legislator, called Mr. Chan a “racist,” adding: “People around the world are running their own countries. Why can’t Chinese do the same?”
Here on the mainland, a writer published online by The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, gave him a thumbs down. “I guess Jackie Chan has never experienced the lack of freedom, and has not been cruelly controlled,” the commentator, Li Hongbing, wrote.
As the storm gathered, words turned to action: the mayor of Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, dropped Mr. Chan as an ambassador for the 2009 Summer Deaflympics in Taiwan. The Hong Kong Tourism Board said it would reconsider his role as its most high-profile spokesman. On Facebook, more than 9,700 people threw their weight behind a tongue-in-cheek effort to dispatch Mr. Chan to hypercontrolled North Korea.
“I wouldn’t watch his movies again unless he apologizes,” said Shing Hiu-yi, vice president of the Students’ Union Council at Hong Kong University, one of many groups that have been issuing condemnations and calling for boycotts. “What he said was insulting to the Chinese people.”
On the other hand, few have publicly acknowledged that Mr. Chan’s sentiments, even if “taken out of context,” as his spokesman insisted, are quietly accepted or embraced by many Chinese. The Communist Party has long argued that the people of China are ill suited for Western-style democracy. Even many educated Chinese unabashedly insist that the bulk of their brethren are too unschooled or unsophisticated to participate in matters of politics and governing.
Give the people too long a leash, the thinking goes, and everyone will end up strangled.
Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based analyst of Chinese politics, said that there was a prevailing sentiment in the Chinese-speaking world that too much freedom could only fuel disharmony and instability, viewed as archenemies of China’s drive to put economic development first.
“Jackie Chan said those things because he thinks they are true, and there are major sections of society who couldn’t agree with him more,” Mr. Moses said. “But such thinking is increasingly out of touch with this simmering debate about what the extent of state authority should be.”
Mr. Chan’s remarks provoked some navel-gazing, especially on the Internet. In a subtle subversion, Yan Lieshan, one of China’s best-known writers, suggested that no amount of government control could help a nation lacking manners and morals. Writing in Southern Weekend, a liberal-leaning newspaper in Guangzhou, Mr. Yan bemoaned the neighbors who dump trash on his sidewalk and the cars that speed down his narrow street. “How I wish the relevant authorities would come and enforce the rules, but there is no one to control them,” he wrote. “When you lodge a complaint, no one responds.”
Although he was reared in Hong Kong by parents who fled mainland China, Mr. Chan, 55, has been an unalloyed Chinese patriot. He sang during the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, and he angrily denounced protesters who sought to interrupt the torch relay. During an earlier swat at electoral politics, he called the 2004 presidential elections in Taiwan “the biggest joke in the world.”
Even if he believes that Chinese people need more control, many observers suggested that Mr. Chan was simply seeking to stroke the authoritarian government that recently banned his latest film, “Shinjuku Incident,” because of excessive violence.
Hu Xingdou, an economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said he was so infuriated by what he described as Mr. Chan’s pandering that he was organizing a boycott of a May 1 concert Mr. Chan had scheduled at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.
“It’s easy to sacrifice freedom when you’re treated like a V.I.P. or some high-level official every time you come to China,” said Mr. Hu, who is known for his tart criticisms. “I’m sure Jackie Chan has never thought about the suffering of the little people who have no power.”
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The influence of consumer power in China
Who can blame Jackie Chan? He is a businessman and with 1.3 billion potential audience and royal fans to feed, of course, he has to sway toward the Chinese government consensus. He is not alone but a recent casualty of the global economy meltdown. Even before his daring speech, global conglomerates such as Cisco, Yahoo, and Google has all bowed and yield to the authoritarian regime. With the economic downturn in full assault and more Chinese middle-class willing to consume, who is to say that anyone endorsing his/hers products would not relent to the tangible pockets of that potential 1.3 billion customers. Especially with the bottom lines in peril, anything disregard of conscience or rational thought is possible.