Jackie Chan sparks China freedom controversy

7:00 PM PST 04/19/2009 by Associated Press, AP

Equated too much freedom to chaos in conference speech

HONG KONG -- Jackie Chan questioned the need for freedom for Chinese people during a speech Saturday, prompting outrage from lawmakers in Taiwan and Hong Kong, who accused him of insulting his own race.

The "Rush Hour" star said at a business forum in the southern Chinese island province Hainan on Saturday that a free society may not be beneficial for authoritarian China.

"I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," Chan said at the Boao Forum. "If you're too free, you're like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic."

Chan added, "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we're not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."

Chan's comments drew applause from his audience of mainly business leaders in Hainan on Saturday, but prompted fierce criticism from lawmakers in Taiwan and his hometown Hong Kong on Sunday.

Taiwan, which split with China amid civil war in 1949, is a democratically self-ruled island.

Former British colony Hong Kong enjoys Western-style civil liberties and some democratic elections under Chinese rule. Half of its 60-member legislature is elected, with the other half picked by special interest groups. But Hong Kong's leader is chosen by a panel stacked with Beijing loyalists.

"He's insulted the Chinese people. Chinese people aren't pets," pro-democracy Hong Kong legislator Leung Kwok-hung told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "Chinese society needs a democratic system to protect human rights and rule of law."

"His comments are racist. People around the world are running their own countries. Why can't Chinese do the same?" another Hong Kong lawmaker, Albert Ho, said.

"He himself has enjoyed freedom and democracy and has reaped the economic benefits of capitalism. But he has yet to grasp the true meaning of freedom and democracy," Taiwan legislator Huang Wei-che said.

While Chan's comments were reported by the Hong Kong and Taiwanese news outlets, they were ignored by the Chinese press.

Ho noted that Chan was a fierce critic of the Chinese military's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989, which killed at least hundreds, adding that he has apparently reversed his position to please the Chinese government.

Chan has never been a consistent campaigner for democracy and has always been welcomed by the Chinese government. He performed at the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics last year and took part in the Olympic torch relay.

The veteran action star, however, chose not to release his latest film in China.

The violent gangster thriller "Shinjuku Incident," in which Chan plays an illegal Chinese immigrant who becomes a hit man for Japanese gangsters, likely would have raised red flags among Chinese censors sensitive about negative portrayals of Chinese.

The film's director, Derek Yee, said, however, the main issue was its violent scenes. Yee said he didn't want to tone down the violence because it would hurt the movie.

Solon So, chief executive of Chan's company JC Group and his main spokesman, said Sunday the actor did not have further comment.
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