- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Here’s what the action star said at a forum whose attendees included Wen Jiabao:
“I’m not sure if it is good to have freedom or not,” he said. “I’m really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic.”
He added: “I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”
Via Evgeny, I see that the comments have provoked an angry online backlash in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as the blogosphere on the mainland. There are calls for a boycott of the “racist” Chan’s films.
At Post Global, John Pomfret sees a class dynamic at play:
Chan is just saying what a lot of other rich Chinese feel. In the 20 years since Tiananmen, Chinese society has changed enormously. One of the most astounding ways has been in the return of a class society and in the disdain with which China’s rich view China’s poor. When Chan was saying Chinese need to be “controlled,” to be sure, he was speaking about the poor. He didn’t have to say it, But that’s what the audience at Boao heard and that’s why they cheered him on. Anyone who has conversations of depth with members of China’s elite has heard this argument before.
Granted I don’t know much about the context, but it seems to me like it’s at least possible that Chan is being sarcastic. The comments were in response to a question about censorship. Chan’s new film Shinjuku was recently banned in mainland China because of violence. It seems strange to me that Chan would so vociferously praise a set of policies that resulted in him losing quite a bit of revenue. Whatever his class prejudices or political beliefs, I’m sure that Chan believes that poor Chinese should at least be free to spend their hard-earned yuan on his products. He should also know better than to insult his many fans in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Chan’s not in a position to criticize a decision by the Chinese government, but the over-the-top comments seem like they could be a subtle dig at the Chinese authorities for being so uptight about his movie. Then again, I could be giving the guy too much credit.
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