It’s always risky when entertainers make the jump from the arts to politics. There’s always a chance that they will make fools of themselves by displaying ignorance of political subtleties and the complexity of the problems they discuss.
Prominent artists such as Sean Penn, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie have backed political causes that could not avoid ruffling feathers, but by and large have done so with a degree of tact and strategy.
Over the weekend, another well-known personality from the silver screen joined the fray of artists who would contribute to political discourse. Sadly for this individual, however, his comments blew up in his face and discredited him. It was Hong Kong-born action star Jackie Chan (成龍).
In Chan’s worldview, too much freedom and political liberty is a bad thing. Chinese, when not “controlled” by political authorities, are entropic, meaning they tend toward chaos.
To prove this fantastic theory, Chan singled out Hong Kong and Taiwan — solitary islands of democracy in the so-called Greater China — as being too free and thus chaotic. Vehicular traffic in the south and news media aside, those who know anything about Taiwan know that there is no correlation between freedom and chaos. Ironically, Taiwan has been lauded by the outside world for the opposite: the orderliness of its political transitions and changes in government, standing in contrast to, say, Thailand.
Chan has not only insulted Taiwanese, who spilled blood building their democracy, and people in Hong Kong, who have worked hard to retain freedom in the territory since the handover to China, but has also come very close to expressing racist sentiment in genetic terms.
If, as he claims, Chinese need to be “controlled,” then this implies that they are genetically predisposed to chaos and incapable of functioning without a system that imposes order — an authoritarian system.
This, of course, is utter poppycock. There is no shortage of Chinese who have given their lives fighting to ensure that future generations can live in freedom; their valid complaint is that the Chinese government exploits fear of disorder to rationalize its monopoly on power and largely unaccountable use of violence against ordinary people.
If Chinese were genetically incapable of appreciating freedom or using it wisely, then Chan would argue that the hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and, yes, sympathetic soldiers and government officials in Tiananmen Square in 1989 were deluded and required “control.”
The same would apply to the reporters, bloggers, rights activists and authors — the Liu Xiaobos (劉曉波) — who have forsaken personal safety in the name of freedom and building a just system of government.
We can assume that Chan would label all of these people as misfits, as if they were potential and deserving outcasts in a Chinese version of Brave New World — somehow deficient and hence to be purged.
Chan, once again, has shown his true colors. He is on the authoritarian side of the political barrier, and would deny freedom to his compatriots. His comments have made it most clear that the image of heroic everyman that he has carefully crafted over the decades is hollow.
The Taipei City Government should do the right thing and replace Chan as its spokesperson for this summer’s Deaflympics. The last celebrity that disabled people deserve to be represented by is a man who supports systems of control over those who lack autonomy, dignity and power.