“The China Syndrome: The Sequel”

Evan Osnos has a writeup about the Christian Bale incident that happened yesterday, in which the Hollywood star tried to visit Chen Guangcheng and was roughed up by goons:

On Thursday, CNN reported that Bale contacted the station and asked if a crew would accompany him to none other than Linyi, the human-rights hotspot, to visit the home of blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who has been illegally held under house arrest since being released from prison in 2010. As with many of the journalists, lawyers, and activists who have sought to do the same, Bale and the CNN crew got only as far as a cordon of local thugs, who pushed the actor and journalists around and chased them away. “Why can I not visit this free man?” Bale asks repeatedly, in the tape of the encounter, while guards in central-casting brute suits of thick green winter coats bat at the cameras and order him to “Go away.”

It all adds up to the most intriguing collision of media, celebrity, and Chinese politics since Steven Spielberg pulled out of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics over his objections to Chinese policy in Darfur. When news broke of Bale’s trip to Chen’s village, some on the Chinese Web saw a publicity stunt—“If you’re studying marketing, learn from this,” a commentator wrote on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter—but the far broader reaction was positive. People praised Bale for taking an interest in a case that deserves it, and Murong Xuecun, a prominent author and liberal commentator, wrote: “Because of Christian Bale, I’ll support Zhang Yimou and go see the movie tonight.”

I suspect we’ve not heard the last of this story. In China, cases like these can proceed in unpredictable directions, and the days ahead are likely to include: 1) an obligatory editorial in the state press advising Hollywood actors to keep out of China’s “internal affairs”; 2) a nationalist backlash; 3) high-profile red-carpet questions posed to director Zhang Yimou about what he thinks of Chen’s case and his actor’s activism.

This story, by all accounts, has proved more surprising than the movie’s. Stay tuned.

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Filed under enforced disappearance, human rights, intimidation

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