Kung fu icon Jackie Chan is at the center of China’s efforts to up its soft power game. In Beijing this week, Chan, former NBA player Yao Ming and Nobel Prize winning author Mao Yan are in attendance at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the 2,000-member advisory body that meets annually.
Beijing has drafted Chan to help craft an image of unity between Hong Kong and mainland China. Professor Sony Ho, co-director at the Centre for Greater China Studies, believes that Taiwan is also on the table in this “united front” game of projecting unity.
Chan is going along with this effort, to the dismay of his native Hong Kong, where the martial arts star has lost love in recent years after siding with Beijing in numerous instances. Last December he called for Beijing to limit the range of issues that Hong Kong residents are allowed to protest.
“There should be regulations on what can and cannot be protested,” Chan told the Southern People Weekly last December. “We (Hong Kong residents) do not like repression. We like freedom. But you cannot do whatever you want.”
He added, “Hong Kong has become a city of protest. The whole world used to say it was South Korea. It is now Hong Kong.”
The following month, this January, Chan made controversial statements on Chinese television, lambasting the U.S. as “the most corrupt (country) in the world” and asserting that China has long been browbeaten by global powers.
Chan’s ranting actually began much earlier. At the Boao Forum, an economic conference held on Hainan Island in 2009, he said, “I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.” Prime Minister Wen Jiabao spoke at the event as well.
Given this track record, perhaps it was a natural progression for Chan to be appointed to the political advisory along with Yao Ming, Mo Yan and a host of others: Award-winning director Chen Kaige, comedian Zhao Benshan and television anchor Bai Yansong.
Xi Jinping, currently party chief, will formally take Hu Jintao’s place as president during a meeting of the National People's Congress, which starts on Tuesday.
The members of the CPPCC can be nominated by various groups and serve as representatives of their respective industries for terms of four years.
In photos snapped by Xinhua, Yao Ming is seen amid the delegates, towering above those around him.
“In China, politics has been very closed for a long time, but now slowly it’s becoming more open,” Yao Ming said in an interview with Xinhua during the powwow in Beijing yesterday. “The participation of celebrities has attracted people who were not interested in politics before, increasing public interest. When the public pays more attention to politics, it helps in maturing our political system.”
Yao also explained that he hopes to promote sports in China through his new role of cultural ambassador.
Meanwhile, photos of Jackie Chan walking to a black Audi with white military license plates began making the rounds on Weibo last Friday, provoking the anger of netizens across China for the extravagance.
In response, online activist and researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Yu Jianrong quipped via Weibo: “Has our military hired Jackie Chan to teach soldiers martial arts?”
Another Weibo user added, “Will Jackie Chan please use his martial arts to reclaim the Diaoyu Islands?”
Yao appears to have been prescient when he said that celebrities will bring more attention to politics in China. It remains to be seen, however, if their presence will spur positive change.