Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China React Differently To Jackie Chan's Comment

(Southern Weekend)  April 29, 2009.

On April 19, Apple Daily (Hong Kong) had a front page headline: The lackey Jackie Chan!

On the day before at the Bo'ao Forum, a reporter had asked Jackie Chan a question about culture and freedom.  He said: "Is it better to have freedom or not?  I am really very confused right now.  When you have too much freedom, it becomes like Hong Kong.  Very chaotic.  It becomes like Taiwan.  Also very chaotic.  I am slowly beginning to feel that we the Chinese people need regulation ..."

With the next few days, the Hong Kong Tourism Board received more than 200 letters to rescind Jackie Chan's role as Hong Kong tourism ambassador.

At the same time, more than a dozen "green" supporters held placards saying "shameless artiste, please shut up" to protest at Jackie Chan's Taiwan office.  The Democratic Progressive Party's secretary-general Kao Jyh-peng even cursed Jackie Chan to be struck down by a lightning bolt sent down from the heavens.

On mainland China, even though there were criticisms in the media commentary, many netizens supported "the views of Brother Jackie Chan" because "while freedom is valuable, order is even more valuable" and "there is too much democracy in Taiwan and they often get into fights during meetings."

How can the same words lead to three different kinds of response in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China?  Within these responses, what are the considerations for political figures, the media or ordinary citizens?


When Jackie Chan said those words at the Bo'ao Forum, the China Times chief editor Hsia Chen was present at the scene.  She had wanted to trade business cards with Jackie Chan and chat a little.  But after hearing what he said, she "did not even want to tell him about China Times."

But Hsia Chen said that even though Jackie Chan's words were "unpleasant," she did not think about how to rebut him.  "I was just uncomfortable."

On the day when Jackie Chan spoke, a "crazy father" in Chianghua (Taiwan) tossed his daughter into a pot and boiled her.  All of Taiwan was in an uproar.  Three days later, there was a melee at the Taiwan Parliament.  Democratic Progressive Party legislator Chiu Yiying was criticized as "lacking family education" and so she went up and slapped Nationalist Party legislator Lee Ching-hua.  Chaos ensued.

"They used actual action to prove that when Jackie Chan criticized Taiwan, we cannot talk back loudly that we are right and he was wrong," Hsia Chen told the Southern Weekend reporter.

Beijing political scientist Wu Jiaxiang told Southern Weekend that Jackie Chan had a "strategy" when he said what he said.  "When he criticizes freedom that way, he can't be prevented from entering Taiwan.  But if he praises freedom, he could get into trouble."

But that is not completely true.  In 2004, Jackie Chan called the presidential election in Taiwan "a huge joke" after the March 19th incident.  The "green" camp criticized him and called for boycott of his movies as well as making him an "unwelcomed person."  Jackie Chan knew what Confucius said about "don't go to chaotic places and don't live in dangerous places" and therefore he did not travel to Taiwan until Ma Ying-jeou became president in 2008.

For his words at the Bo'ao Forum, the "blue" camp also had critics such as Chiu Yi denouncing him.  But the "green" camp was obviously more vocal.  The Democratic Progress Party legislator Kao Jyh-peng told the media that Jackie Chan had "repeatedly insulted Taiwan" and he demanded the Taipei city dismiss Jackie Chan as ambassador for the 2009 Summer Deaflymics.

Taipei city mayor Hao Longbin told the reporters that he disagree with what Jackie Chan but he hopes that Chan can spend more time learning about Taiwan.  The Deaflymics executive director Emile Sheng said that he disagrees with what Jackie Chan said but it "could affect the image of Taiwan" if Jackie Chan was dismissed as "ambassador" for uttering one sentence.

But Jackie Chan has definitely suffered some losses.  According to Taiwan National University Department of Public Administration and Policy professor Herman Chiang, Jackie Chan's latest movie <The Shinjuku Incident> is doing terribly at the box office in Taiwan, especially in Kaohsiung.  "Many shows were empty."  "This is a hidden form of voting to say that we don't like what you said and you have hurt our feelings."

Herman Chiang thinks that when Jackie Chan simply blamed the "chaos" on "freedom", he has hurt the feelings of many people.  "Chaos is a matter of cultural attainment and individual quality."

Nevertheless, at the China Times website online survey, 35% said that Jackie Chan was "talking nonsense and his logic was confused"; 49% said that "what he said was reasonable and we need to reflect"; 16% said that "he can say anything he wants because of the freedom of speech."

Perhaps it is as Herman Chiang said that Taiwan has gotten used to such "stinging" comments.  Hsia Chen also thinks that even though Jackie Chan has seen a lot in his life, "he is still someone who had not received a formal education and therefore we cannot expect him to hold deep thoughts about things."


On the day after Jackie Chan misspoke at the Bo'ao Forum, his son Jaycee Chan was at the Hong Kong Film Awards to present the Best Photography and Best Editing awards.  He said very formally: "I don't want us to ramble, so we have been given certain things to say by the organizers ..."

He was obviously making fun of his dad, which made all the entertainment world figures and the audience laughed.

But things were less relaxed in the political circles of Hong Kong.  Chinese Political Consultative Conference vice-chairman and former Hong Kong SAR chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was asked while visiting New York University about Jackie Chan's speech, and replied that while Chan is a "humorous man," Tung "personally disagreed with what he said."

If the preponderance of reaction in Taiwan leaned towards "we need to reflect more on ourselves" and "this is freedom of speech," the reaction of the Hong Kong people seemed fiercer.

Legislator Leung Kwok-hung (nickname "Long Hair") was less gentle.  During the Associated Press interview, he said that Jackie Chan "has insulted the Chinese people" because "the Chinese people are not pets."  The Hong Kong University Student Alliance issued a public statement that Jackie Chan's speech "has brought shame to the people of Hong Kong and poisoned the minds of young people."  Netizens even demanded that the Hong Kong Baptist University and the Hong Kong Academy of Performance Arts rescind the honorary degrees that had been awarded to Jackie Chan.  Some netizens said that Jackie Chan's real name was Chan Guangsheng (which means the Chan who was born in Hong Kong) but he seemed to have forgotten his origins.

Susie Chiang, chairman of the Hong Kong-Taiwan Business Association, told the Southern Weekend reporter that Hong Kong was even more open and free than Taiwan.  "In its one hundred year history, it has no democracy but it is extraordinarily open and free.  So as soon as 'regulation' is mentioned, the Hong Kong people are more sensitive and wary."

Taipei National University professor Herman Chiang does not think that Jackie Chan had any political opportunism in mind.  "I think that he has a case of big-headedness.  When everybody calls him Big Brother, he begins to think that he knows all and can do all."


Unlike Hong Kong or Taiwan, the main discussion occur among the people.

Many mainland netizens agreed with what Jackie Chan said.  An online survey at a well-known website drew more than 160,000 votes, of which 58.2% agreed with Jackie Chan that "the Chinese people need regulation."  63.8% think that "Hong Kong and Taiwan" have too much freedom.

Interestingly, when asked "Would you like to be regulated?" only 37.3% "want to be regulated" while 43.6% "don't want to regulated," with another 19.1% voting for "it does not matter."


In the comments to that survey, a netizen from Guangxi supported what Jackie Chan said and added: "In order to have economic development to build a prosperous nation, we need a core leadership that commands the entire situation as well as a stable and harmonious society.  Too much freedom causes social chaos and economic recession, such that the people won't have steady lives."

Another netizen wrote: "Every time that I read news about Taiwan, I feel that it is too chaotic.  Two parties stand opposite to each other.  Sometimes one side curses the other side; sometimes the other side curses."

Compared to the netizen support for what Jackie Chan said, the mainland media were mostly criticial of him.  Xiong Peiyun and other media persons pointed out that "only by guaranteeing and not rolling back on the freedoms that are accorded constitutionally that chaos can truly be avoided."

There are others who feel that Jackie Chan's speech at the Bo'ao Forum is not worthy of discussion.  <China Is Unhappy> co-author Wang Xiaodong was interviewed by the Southern Weekend reporter and said: "Do the American people not need regulation?  Do the British people not need regulation?  If the American and the British people do not need regulation, then what are their police for?  The key is about the definition of regulation.  When the definition of 'regulation' is unclear, what is the point of picking on those words?"

China Times (Taiwan) chief editor Hsia Chen told the reporter that "when Chiu Yiying slapped Lee Ching-hua, the Jackie Chan affair vanished."  The misstatement by Jackie Chan and all the other hot stories come strong and go quickly in the Taiwan media.

In mainland China, the name of Jackie Chan will continue to appear in the media.  But this time, everybody will be paying attention to the May 1st concert titled "Confidence in China, the Descendant of the Dragon" at the Bird's Nest.  This will be the first musical concert held at China's National Sports Stadium.

Related Link: What Did Jackie Chan Say?  My own transcription of what actor Jackie Chan said at the Bo'ao Forum.  You can decide for yourself what the context is.