Chinese moviegoers lust for freedom

An embryonic movement to promote civil liberties and freedoms may be brewing in China. But it has nothing to do with political prisoners, the Falun Gong, or the upcoming 2008 Olympics. Rather, the release of director Ang Lee’s film “Lust, Caution” has spurred an unusual surge of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong. The reason? On ...

597486_071119_lustcaution_05.jpg
597486_071119_lustcaution_05.jpg

An embryonic movement to promote civil liberties and freedoms may be brewing in China. But it has nothing to do with political prisoners, the Falun Gong, or the upcoming 2008 Olympics. Rather, the release of director Ang Lee's film “Lust, Caution” has spurred an unusual surge of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong. The reason? On the mainland, the movie is heavily censored. The combination of a nuanced portrayal of a World War II-era traitor and explicit sex scenes was apparently too much for Beijing officials to stomach, but not the libertarians in laissez-faire Hong Kong.

With many of China's wealthy elites reportedly shelling out big bucks for flights from the mainland to see the film in Hong Kong, could we be seeing a backlash against Chinese censorship? A revolution sparked by a newfound respect for freedom in the arts? Probably not, at least not in the near future.

The vast bulk of the Chinese public, by and large, is more concerned with pocketbook issues than being able to see racy scenes in a movie by a Taiwanese director. And for those who don't want or can't afford to travel to Hong Kong, pirated copies of the uncensored movie are available from street vendors (as is most every other film, album and book), making official censorship difficult and almost useless. No wonder the few calls by individuals for the movie's unedited release on the mainland have been dismissed by the Chinese government with little public reaction.

An embryonic movement to promote civil liberties and freedoms may be brewing in China. But it has nothing to do with political prisoners, the Falun Gong, or the upcoming 2008 Olympics. Rather, the release of director Ang Lee’s film “Lust, Caution” has spurred an unusual surge of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong. The reason? On the mainland, the movie is heavily censored. The combination of a nuanced portrayal of a World War II-era traitor and explicit sex scenes was apparently too much for Beijing officials to stomach, but not the libertarians in laissez-faire Hong Kong.

With many of China’s wealthy elites reportedly shelling out big bucks for flights from the mainland to see the film in Hong Kong, could we be seeing a backlash against Chinese censorship? A revolution sparked by a newfound respect for freedom in the arts? Probably not, at least not in the near future.

The vast bulk of the Chinese public, by and large, is more concerned with pocketbook issues than being able to see racy scenes in a movie by a Taiwanese director. And for those who don’t want or can’t afford to travel to Hong Kong, pirated copies of the uncensored movie are available from street vendors (as is most every other film, album and book), making official censorship difficult and almost useless. No wonder the few calls by individuals for the movie’s unedited release on the mainland have been dismissed by the Chinese government with little public reaction.

That said, if the theory of relative deprivation holds true, China’s elite may get jealous of Hong Kong’s freedoms and take the lead in pressuring Beijing into greater liberal reforms. Said one Chinese businessman who traveled to Hong Kong:

We could have bought a pirated copy of the movie here, but we were not happy with the control and wanted to support the legal edition of the film.

Sentiments like those from China’s wealthy elite undoubtedly irks the Chinese leadership, but the Communist Party has skillfully avoided having to yield to greater democratic reforms. I doubt that a movie is going to be the catalyst that breaks that trend.

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