Christian Bale roughed up in bid to visit dissident in China

Actor Christian Bale, in China to promote 'The Flowers of War,' tussled with thugs as he tried to visit Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. Was the encounter a bit self-promotional or helpful?

Andy Wong/AP
English actor Christian Bale speaks to journalists during an interview on the red carpet as he arrives for an event of the Zhang Yimou-directed new movie 'The Flowers of War' in Beijing, Monday. Academy Award winner Bale, in the midst of promoting the film he made in China that some critics have called propaganda, has been stopped trying to visit a famous human rights activist living under house arrest, with a CNN camera crew in tow.

Far be it from me to suggest that Christian Bale, the Oscar winning Hollywood star who made his name as Batman, is anything but a noble warrior for international human rights.

But it is hard not to detect a smidgeon of self-promotion in his latest stunt – getting himself filmed by CNN being roughed up by Chinese thugs during a vain attempt to visit Chen Guangcheng, a famous human rights activist who has been under house arrest for the past 15 months.

Mr. Bale is in China to promote his latest movie “The Flowers of War,” about the brutal Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, which some critics have panned as Chinese propaganda. His successful televised bid to draw world attention to the illegal detention of one of the sharpest thorns in the Chinese government’s side has certainly undercut such criticism.

CNN said Bale contacted the network’s Beijing office asking for help in visiting Mr. Chen, whose village in eastern China has been locked down by plainclothes security men for more than a year. Diplomats, journalists, and ordinary Chinese citizens have been violently turned away whenever they have sought to visit the blind lawyer who helped alleged victims of forced abortions.

'Couldn't look the other way'

In CNN’s report on the visit, Bale says he could not “look the other way” knowing that Chen was being kept incommunicado, and that he just wanted to shake the activist’s hand.

Bale has also rejected accusations that by starring in “The Flowers of War,” the most expensive film ever made in China and directed by Zhang Yimou who choreographed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, he had contributed to a nationalist Chinese demonization of the Japanese.

“That would be a bit of a kneejerk reaction,” he told reporters at the premiere in Beijing earlier this week.

I found the film, which opened here on Friday and which is expected to be a smash hit, to be melodramatic, sentimental, and implausible. But the two dimensional depiction of Japanese soldiers as heartless and cunning beasts is not very different from the way US and British films used to portray World War II Germans.

US and British film makers have gotten over that, in a way that Chinese film makers have still not. That’s because the Chinese government still finds it politically useful to focus popular nationalist resentment on the Japanese. Perhaps Christian Bale’s publicity coup, by drawing more attention to Chen Guangcheng’s fate, will nudge the Chinese government toward getting over its habit of locking up uncomfortable critics.

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