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Jackie Chan: Wannabe Party Member

The relationship between action movie star Jackie Chan and his hometown of Hong Kong was once a very special one. People loved the actor for his martial arts, his move, and his role as an ambassador for the city, whose image he helped shape since the 1980s as a comedic gadfly with outstanding kung fu skills. As a child, he even acted alongside legendary Bruce Lee, and many considered him his legitimate successor.

Jackie Chan, whose Chinese name is Cheng Long, is also outside of China, synonymous with the cultural creativity of the metropolis. However, Chan, who has starred in around 200 movies, has since dramatically lost the affection of many of his Hong Kong compatriots over recent years. Most recently, he caused outrage and head shaking in July when he told his audience at a China Film Association symposium in the People’s Republic, “I’m very lucky to be a Chinese person, but I also am very jealous that you all are Party members. I just think the Chinese Communist Party is really so magnificent.” What the Party said and promised it would accomplish in a few decades, while other (parties) would take 100 years to do it: “I want to be a Party member!”

It was not the first acknowledgment by the 67-year-old of the CCP’s monopoly on power and its increasing influence over his hometown. In 2009, he had once mischievously remarked that he was no longer sure whether freedom was good or not. He had gradually come to realize the importance of Chinese people living under strict control. “Otherwise, we’ll do what we want. Just look at road traffic,” he said. He appeared on state television as a regular guest on the New Year’s show, and in 2008 he was part of the Olympic torch relay heading to Beijing.

Jackie Chan: Support for the Security Act

Hong Kong’s love was already beginning to crumble. By 2019 at the latest, it had turned to pure hatred among many of the city’s pro-democracy citizens when Chan publicly condemned the protest movement. Later, Chan, like many other celebrities in the city, signed a joint statement claiming that the introduction of the National Security Law for Hong Kong was an urgent tool to restore stability and peace in the city.

He had already fallen out with many Taiwanese citizens much earlier, after calling the 2004 presidential election in the island state “the biggest joke”. A few years later, during a promotional tour to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory, he faced a lot of hostility. Demonstrators waited for him at the airport, urging him to “Get lost”.

His support for the authoritarian policies of the CCP eventually turned into a political mission. Since 2013, Chan has been a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. As such, he has the opportunity to introduce proposals into the policy-making process of the People’s Republic. In turn, the party and state media use his name to popularize their policies in Hong Kong and around the globe. Another example is professional basketball player Yao Ming, who has tens of millions of fans in China, and since the end of his career has been used as a poster boy for the authoritarian regime. For no one dares to turn down an invitation to the Consultative Conference, not unless he or she wants to be perceived at least as ungrateful or, at worst, even as a dissident.

The commercial consequences for celebrities can be devastating should they choose not to follow the Party’s will, as John Lee of the Hudson Institute in Washington told Vice Magazine about the Jackie Chan case. “There are potentially serious commercial consequences for celebrities and entertainment executives who make sensitive comments that are deemed as being critical of China and the Communist Party,” Lee says. Especially when their own movies rely on whopping revenues at the Chinese box office. While Hong Kong stars like Chan have opted to kowtow, actor Chow Yun-fat (The Assassins, Pirates of the Caribbean) or singer Denise Ho have been punished with exile from the Chinese market for supporting the pro-democracy movement.

Philanthropist in tax havens

Jackie Chan is not only an actor, but also an entrepreneur. His film production company and cinema chain are also active in China. Chan has promised to donate half of his fortune of several hundred million US dollars posthumously to good causes. His own foundation aims to provide young people in Hong Kong with better educational opportunities. He is also committed to the welfare of endangered species. The sheen of his philanthropy was scratched, however, when his name came up in 2016 in connection with the publication of the Panama Papers. Through an obscure law company, he owned six companies managed in tax havens. A legal practice, but for many ordinary mortals, it was reason enough to accuse him of contributing to social inequality in the world.

In the meantime, Chan subtly promotes changes among the world’s major powers in his movies. Take, for example, the 2010 remake of Karate Kid, which Chan also directed and starred as a Beijing janitor introducing an African-American boy who immigrated from the US to the world of kung fu. In one scene, the boy, talking to his single mother from the US working class, laments that he wants to go back home. Her response: “This is our home.” The idea of portraying China as a country of immigration, as the U.S. is for Chinese, might seem hilarious – but is pure fiction for the time being

But who knows how the world will develop; perhaps the People’s Republic will soon become dependent on wage labor from abroad because of its demographic change. Thirty years ago, no one would have expected Jackie Chan to support an authoritarian regime. A week before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Chan attended the benefit Concert for Democracy in China at the Hong Kong Happy Valley Racecourse, in which all the artists had volunteered to take part. grz

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