Understanding Jackie Chan, Chinese Nationalism, And Double Standards In English Media

Jackie Chan

In a December interview on a Phoenix TV talk show, Jackie Chan made comments that Western media have recently described as “anti-American” — …really?

First, the words, as translated by Ministry of Tofu:

Jackie Chan: The New China…The real success has been made in the past dozen of years. Our country’s president also admits they have the corruption problem, and some other stuff, but we are making progress. What I can see is our country is continuously making progress and learning. If you talk about corruption, the entire world, the America, has no corruption?

Host: America.

Jackie: The most corrupt in the world.

Host: Really?

Jackie: Of course. Where does this Great Breakdown (depression) come from? It started exactly from the world, the United States. When I was interviewed in the U.S., people asked me, I said the same thing. I said now that China has become strong, everyone is making an issue of China. If our own countrymen don’t support our country, who will support our country? We know our country has many problems. We (can) talk about it when the door is closed. To outsiders, (we should say,) “our country is the best.”

Host: So he can’t get enough of his more than 20 ambassador titles. I think the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should ask him to be the ambassador to the United States.

Jackie: Seriously, I am always like, when the door is closed, “Our country is like this and this. Who and who is not good.” But outside, “Our country is the best, like so and so, is the best.” You cannot say our country has problems (when you are outside), like “Yes, our country is bad.”

I think Jackie Chan’s comments regarding America are immature, but they’re not without reason.

What a lot of reporting has ignored is that Chan was speaking in Chinese on a Chinese television channel, and the message he was delivering to a Chinese audience was this: “Yes, China has flaws, but if you talk about our country’s shortcomings with foreigners, they’ll misinterpret the message.”

He’s not entirely wrong there. Noteworthy point, Chan made his infamous comment more than a month ago, and only now they’re being heard? And he was not saying everything is rosy in China. Quite the contrary, in fact: Seriously, I am always like, when the door is closed, “Our country is like this and this. Who and who is not good.”

What he’s saying, if anyone bothered to read the entire transcription, is a common sentiment shared by many mainlanders. It wasn’t long ago, relatively speaking, that China was stuck in a “century of shame,” a period of history that reads like the Book of Lamentations. It was a century plagued with war, disease, famine, and foreign interests trumping those of the Chinese people. Compared to a nation like Canada, China leaves much to be desired. But today’s China, compared to China of 100 years ago, is autonomous, stable, and strong. To the Chinese, being able to limp out of the last century not only as a nation, but as an economic force, is empowering — intoxicating, almost, if you look at the wave of patriotic films in the last decade. Thus the rise of modern Chinese nationalism, which absolutely and crucially emphasizes the idea of autonomy.

To the Chinese, a problem within China is a strictly Chinese affair, to be handled internally even if it takes a century of suffering. If we look at the States, it’s easy to see a country handling its problems by bringing “peace and freedom” to millions of Iraqis and Afghans (with gifts of drones and torture), and keeping military bases within striking distance to Beijing (and basically everywhere, actually). Americans, unlike the Chinese, import suffering. To some people, you know, this sounds rather imperialistic.

Is it surprising people have spun Chan’s comments as anti-American? No. Is he actually anti-American? No. That’s being overdramatic. You might as well say anyone who criticizes the US is anti-American. But the reason Chan is branded as such is because he’s an outsider, and he’s getting all up in America’s grill and probably doesn’t know shit, right? Well, that’s pretty much the Chinese response to outside criticism, too. What we have is the global equivalent of a playground spat.

I’m not agreeing with Chan’s erroneous statement, nor denying China has serious problems. But here’s the thing: faced with never-ending upbraiding from outsiders who point out flaws that Chinese people are more than capable of noticing on their own, what do you think should be the Chinese response? Point out that corruption and strife are inherent struggles in a nation with a complicated political, economical and ideological history, then hope for sympathy? (As if that would make English-media headlines?) OR shoot off about one of the least-loved Western governments in the world? The latter, as Chan demonstrated, is easier to do — with the unfortunate result being a perpetuation of our vicious cycle of misunderstanding.

Seahorse Liu, born in Toronto, studied design at the Nanjing University of Art, where she confused locals with her accent. She is currently studying at OCAD University, and also produces infographics for the Canadian International Council’s Open Canada website.

28 Responses to “Understanding Jackie Chan, Chinese Nationalism, And Double Standards In English Media”

  1. Andao

    Three bad assumptions:

    1) This century of humiliation was nothing but doom and gloom for 100 years straight. Yes, the Japanese were evil and did tons of terrible things. No one should forget that. But until about 10 years ago, northeastern China had the most advanced and comprehensive railway network, built by the Japanese. A lot of early structure was built by foreigners, and Chinese people have reaped the rewards for decades.

    It’s hard to not call communism itself Western imperialism (Ma ke si surely wasn’t Chinese) but that’s a whole other can of worms.

    2) China has to be unified to be “good”. A lot of people lived very well during the Warlord period after the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and art and literature flourished in some places. It was probably the first time in a few thousand years that local people had real sovereignty over their homeland. Then the KMT said “nope, you have to be ruled by Nanjing and speak Putonghua.” The commies continued that, but of course were even more invasive in creating a unified China where there was never one before.

    3) Regardless of Chan’s opinions on the US, we can’t go on thinking “when my neighbor beats his wife, that’s his own business.” That’s pretty much China in a nutshell these days, and the result is that no one helps anyone else, no one trusts anyone else, and there’s no civil society. Chan seems to think that’s OK. Don’t go to the police when you’re in an abusive relationship, because what’s in the family MUST stay in the family. Sounds lovely.

    I could care less about what Chan thinks about the US, but I think his opinions are either factually false or just morally bad.

    Reply
    • Sea_Horse_Mirror

      1 and 2 however is what a lot of people in the mainland would argue in the face of criticism. That’s why I’m pointing them out. The idea that what they have now is better than what they had before. It is true foreign powers built a lot of infrastructure in China and they’re pretty much to credit for the powerful state of the southern economy as well. But to a lot of people this is a question of autonomy. Secondly China tends to be rather disjointing once we break down certain areas as is with other countries such as the States when you think of how many famous writers California produced versus Ohio. I do agree reunification is a modern idea and not necessarily something that truly existed in the sense of an actual state, it’s not something the commies made up though, this idea existed a little before them and a little before KMT.

      3, your neighbour lives in your neighbourhood. Another bad analogy would be my neighbour is a sinful atheist as a good Christian I should go over there and make it my mission to convert them so that they may receive the mercy of Christ. Sounds different with different subjects. Also is what really do we or gain when we open our mouths to say anything? No matter how much we whine about air quality in Beijing, unless you actually get up and do something about it and go through all the channels, our opinion matter less than the complaints of locals. What are we gonna do to make it better? Nag our politicians to nag them? We all that is not in the interest of neither of our politicians who’d rather deal with stuff that actually makes us happy. Really the Chinese can only save themselves, who are we to think we can fix their problems?

      Reply
  2. Chackie Jan

    You forgot a simple explanation. Jackie is an actor, not a politician or a spokesperson. So the ideas he puts forward are ill thought out, immature and let’s face it, they are along the lines of common and accepted thought at the moment. Jackie doesn’t have a specific interest in being scholarly wise, he’s just street wise. He knows which market is booming and doesn’t bite the hand that feeds him. Just like he did not bite America’s hand during the decades he was actually successful abroad. Now that the sun has set on that little ordeal, he crawls back. Put in a few bold statements here and there and home will embrace him and continue to feed him.

    Reply
      • terroir

        Jackie’s stories have always been apocryphal, from his “I survived 9/11″ to the latest “I was so afraid of triad members I would carry guns and even a grenade after touching down at the airport with me” (for which he is currently being investigated). It lends to his ability as a storyteller, but as “China’s biggest star” he still hasn’t accepted that he is responsible for his words.

        Also: no love for me, Seahorse? You’ve replied to everyone else here.

        Reply
  3. Jack

    I agree that to call Chan’s offhand remarks “anti-American” is like calling criticism of Israel “anti-Semitic,” but I doubt the author will disagree that Chan has not done himself any favors with yet another of these gaffes. I know it breaks his fans’ hearts, but this once-lovable media star (who made many millions in the very country he calls corrupt) is turning into a popular hate figure in both China and the US.

    To Americans, he’s doing a Depardieu. To his Chinese critics, he’s doing a, well, a Jackie Chan.

    Chan’s offense isn’t having an opinion. It’s using his position as a celebrity to express opinions better kept to himself. In his heyday, Chan was a beacon of cultural communication between the US and China. But since his US hits dried up, he was welcomed back by China’s cultural authorities with open wallets, and, as a result, has chosen to undermine a laudable role for a more lucrative one – by becoming a spokesmonkey for the Chinese government, and an apologist for the suppression of dissent and free speech.

    I think people on both sides of the Pacific are quite rightly disgusted that someone who once did so much to engender intercultural understanding would take sides in the utterly unhelpful China vs. US debate, instead of working towards a nobler, more productive goal.

    So yes, on this occasion, a stupid, spur-of-the-moment remark has been over-dramatized and turned into a story where none previously existed. But Chan deserves to be pilloried. Not as anti-American, but as a hypocrite.

    Reply
    • SeaHorse

      Agreed. Not saying he’s a bad singer, but the man sang at the Olympics, one would assume he has some sort of patriotic leaning and has his sponsors. He’s essentially a diplomatic panda. I think he just got into a corner and this is his stock reserve of insults to hurl. This is just a case of celebrities saying stupid shit.

      Reply
      • Michael

        Patriotic? He’s from HK!

        He’s essentially feeding the Mainland Press Pro-PRC platitudes so he can get the good movie roles. Not to be trite, I know he’s already got lots of money, but he needs to repair his image after some 素质 comments about Mainlanders not deserving the vote, etc.

        Chinese corruption vs. US corruption? Honestly, I don’t see much of a difference (perhaps this is a deeper point, or the same point… I’m not sure): in China you have no vote, in the US you have the choice between two parties, both of which are being bullied/bribed by same legal entities (corporations, lobbyists, special interest groups).

        So in China you get no choice, and in the US you get a fake choice.

        In China you have no journalistic integrity (you’ll get shut down if you criticize the govt), and in the US, you have more journalistic integrity (to a point, then you get thrown off the air for pissing off advertisers).

        One point of MAJOR distinction between the two is the Internet. In China, things like Weibo have caused real change (eg. naked Fugly+小姐 action), and in the West Twitter/Blogging has obviously been a force to hold public people/mainstream media/regulators accountable. Of course, every major SNS in China is being ‘dusted’ by the Government, even me too Search Engine, Baidu.

        So in conclusion… “corruption is everywhere, but at least the US has Twitter”? Meh.

        Reply
        • Andao

          I think the local politicians in the US are mostly clean. There’s not a lot of money behind being the head of some rural township, and most of the people that do this also work full time jobs and meet on the weekends to iron stuff out. I honestly don’t know how it works in China, but I don’t think these two bit politicians in the US are that corrupt.

          I guess I have more confidence in mainstream media also. There’s a lot of money to be made in outing a corrupt politician. In China, there’s only laogai and a bowl of cold rice for doing that, unless the politician’s particular faction is on the shitlist.

          Reply
        • SeaHorse

          HK is a funny complicated story. Notably before the handover there were Diaoyu/Senkaku island protests in HK over the original incident that sparked assertion of the land claims.Kuomingtang itself openly owed part of its existence to romantic wealthy HKers and overseas Chinese still in love with the ‘mother country.’ So the fact he was born there is irrelevant to me.

          Jackie Chan is basically a human panda, he is seen as something that represents China to the world. But if he wanted a better movie role he could just make one up, he pretty much produced and acted in the whole Police Story series. I think he just talks a little too much and have less forethought.

          Reply
        • Total Eclipse of the Twat

          “In China, things like Weibo have caused real change (eg. naked Fugly+小姐 action), and in the West Twitter/Blogging has obviously been a force to hold public people/mainstream media/regulators accountable.”

          Was your ‘real change’ sarcastic? I mean, let’s face it, once something becomes hot on Weibo and has the potency to change things, censors will jump on it like Indians on a girl.

          However I do think that Weibo has a lot of potential in this process. More so than Twitter, but only because of the particular situation in both worlds. To link this to the Jackie Chan story, I think one huge advantage of having China cut off from Twitter is that the debate can be held with relatively closed doors. Given the number of trolls and frustrated people on Twitter that may actually help speed up the process. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword though.

          Reply
  4. KopyKatKiller

    As far as his comments about Chinese saying bad things about China behind Chinese closed doors, but saying to everyone else only good things, he makes sense. This is the most common thing about Chinese culture, “face”, more often than not “two-faced”.

    The issue I have with this thinking is when it’s applied to outsiders. I can’t say anything bad about China to Chinese because I am an outsider. Well, why the hell not? And secondly, non-Chinese will not only criticize China but also criticize their own countries… well, I will at least.

    I think the problem is not that Jackie Chan is anti-American (he isn’t, and I agree that the US is highly corrupt and the 2008 financial crisis is irrefutable proof of that), it’s that he is Chinese and thinks like a Chinese person.

    Reply
    • SeaHorse

      You can. I’m just saying Chan said those dumb things because this and this. I’m not of Chinese citizenry and I think China lacks proper food regulation, that the pyramid government system is idiotic, outdated, and useless, and any mention of transparency surely must be a joke. I however acknowledge I may shout at them, but I’d be dumb to think I’m actually doing anything about it. He said what he said because he’s being a baby and calling kettles black.

      Reply
    • MAC

      Exactly. The take-away shouldn’t be “Jackie Chan is anti-American,” it’s “don’t expect straight talk on China from a Chinese person unless they’re your best friend or spouse.”

      Reply
  5. terroir

    There is no more “closed door”. A hundred years ago Jackie could easily say whatever he wants and never fear that Westerners are listening; a hundred years later some Chinese are still thinking the same way.

    As such, the rise of a Chinese superpower concerns everyone on the planet in the same way the world is interested in a US election they can’t vote in. That means that everyone is going to voice their opinions on Chinese matters because China’s problems are the world’s problems.

    That’s cutting it thick, but then the plot thickens. Starry-eyed idealists come over to China, get sold the Chinese way of getting the job done, and head back saying, “Those Chinese have a good thing going on! That banquet I went to was delish!” While not limited to the debacle that is F2P online games, this has believers trumping the Chinese sell job.

    So then what are these solutions, and how are they being made? That’s why everyone is so interested in China’s business. If China’s problems are indeed discussed by Chinese people, then let’s have that discussion forum made open and free to all, if just to watch and hear it and not closed and secret and mysterious and non-existent.

    You first, Jackie. When does the first issue come out, I’d like to subscribe to this “vague concept of political dialog”.

    Very biased headshot, too; wasn’t there one of him is white?

    Reply
    • SeaHorse

      Well if you insist.

      I agree pretty with everything that with ever that happened to China in the past decade or two is of course China is going to attract attention, and of course this is a thing that needs to happen and should happen, but there is a thought in China to not say anything to foreigners. People in Jackie Chan’s generation (eg my parents who grew up in the Cold War) quite honestly grew up believing people were simply out to get them. That it is better to appeal to devils you know (the CPC) than the ones you don’t.

      But, ultimately no matter how much time we argue back and forth and take sides, what really needs to happen is Chinese people to do something about it. Which is why I do sympathize a little with the idea Chinese problems are ideas ultimately meant to be solved by the Chinese no matter how slow it seems to us. All we can really do is poke and prod.

      Ah, starry eyed idealists from overseas, sometimes I wonder if they ever wandered outside of the CBDs of Shanghai and Beijing. I’m quite fond of China myself, but I like to think I’m realistic. I share any grandeur illusion that the next century is going to belong to the Chinese.

      Reply
      • terroir

        Yup, in the absence of this supposed discussion that can’t take place in front of foreigners, all outsiders can do is poke and prod — but this is just seen as “outside interference” and clamps down on the transparency of a free society.

        Good piece that has gotten a lot of people talking. And to be honest with you, I just wanted to talk to somebody that has to go to that colorful shoebox in the sky that they call OCAD. Are there holes punched in the lid to allow you students to breathe?

        Reply
        • SeaHorse

          I practically live in that box, overcoming any fear of heights is a degree requirement, and tourists huddle outside trying to figure out if they find the building beautiful or hideous.

          Reply
  6. Suibian

    The US has corruption problems. They are not nearly as severe or systemic as China’s. Jackie Chan is an intelligent, worldly man who has made an effort to be a public figure beyond his acting career. He clearly knows he is lying. I’d love to see a bit of due diligence vis-a-vis his comment that he has said the same thing in America. I imagine this is demonstrably untrue.

    Regardless, his statement was a lie intended to slander a nation in front of an audience he believed would be too ignorant to know that he was lying. It’s hard to define specific criteria for anti-anything, but I think a baseline is whether a critical statement is said in good faith, if it is meant to start a debate or preclude one. So yes, Jackie Chan’s lie was anti-American.

    Reply
  7. Jonathan Alpart

    The Department of Justice in the USA decided not to prosecute guilty bankers at HSBC who laundered both Mexican cartel money and Saudi terrorist money, because it would be some kind of determent to the financial system. They instead merely fined them something like five weeks’ worth of profits for the bank.

    Chinese officials have mistresses, and blow government money on banquets.

    Hmm. I think Jackie Chan is right on point here. No need for the apologetic tone, Seahorse. Come out swinging!

    Reply
    • Little larry

      Yeah, the 2 billion dollars the former head of the national railway embezzeld that likely lead to the Wenzhou crash and Wen Jiabao’s 2.7 billion in oversees holdings are for banquets.

      The point is, Chan is engaged in typical Wu Mao nonsense in ignorning problems at home and pointing fingers at others.

      Too bad you’re too daft to see that and stepping right into it.

      Reply
      • SeaHorse

        If you read what I wrote I concluded “OR shoot off about one of the least-loved Western governments in the world? The latter, as Chan demonstrated, is easier to do”

        It is easy to point fingers and scream at the nearest target. America is simply an easy target, large controversial international influence, blame cow for the western world, and questionable war practices. Alternatively China is also a great place to point a finger at, likewise large controversial international influence, closest thing to a USSR-like adversary left, questionable governance practices… Hence if you follow American politics it’s a lot of “and Chinese communists are stealing our industries” when it comes to foreign policy. It’s easy to talk amongst yourselves about problems, but when someone else points things out out defensive people like to say “at least we are not so and so, they have such and such.”

        But it’s also ridiculous that we really care what a celebrity says so much to go as far as calling a one line gaffe it anti-American? This is after as you said, typical Wu Mao nonsense, the face people are reporting on it is just turning back again and saying “well you are such and such too!”

        Reply
      • Jonathan Alpart

        “The point is, Chan is engaged in typical Wu Mao nonsense in ignorning problems at home and pointing fingers at others.”

        Every foreigner who criticizes China then is guilty of the equivalent of this. America is knee deep in crises of it’s own, but I’m too daft?

        Reply
  8. Johnson

    Double standards? Give me a break a double standard is the US accepting constant insults from Chinese pooliticians and media then freaking out EVERY time someone points out the very real problems that exist in the country. And I’m sorry, but suggesting Chinese only make criticisms behind closed doors so “They, white people, foreigners, non-chinese” don’t hear it is bigoted, childish and draconian as is telling Chinese people when it’s appropriate to critique their own nation.

    Screw Chan and screw anyone who thinks his Wu Mao ways are acceptable.

    Reply
  9. Six

    I understand and kind of agree with Chan’s points, sometimes its best to simply keep your dirty laundry to yourself. This is something I wish the US would do a little more.

    But to me the negative thing about Jacke Chan is his total makeover from a worldly actor to a willing propaganda tool.

    You would assume a HK born person who had spent time in the west would have a little more intellectual integrity.

    But in recent years he has openly criticized not only the United States, but also he’s criticized the movies he has done there. That makes little sense because the US gave him much love and the US market is what made him a global star.

    Add to that his comments about Chinese people not being smart enough to handle freedom or democracy, his always pro CPC stance on every issue, his over the top patriotic red singing, what you end up with is a fake person who has decided sucking up to the government is good for his career.

    It makes me respect Chan a lot less.

    Reply
  10. Nathan Hazlett

    I have lost any respect I may have had for Chan before. I never really watched his movies but generally regarded him as a talented martial artist and skilled entertainer. But his recent comments have definately given me a negative impression of him and his agenda.

    Nothing in this article changes my mind.

    Some points id like to make-

    1) Yes its true that in the past China suffered significant humiliation and suffering from outside forces. As a westerner, I fully acknowledge that. But past wrongs do not justify Chinese arrogance today and frankly China does strike me as an extremely arrogant nation. Not individual Chinese who are often genuinely modest, decent people- but as a nation, its a nation utterly unwilling to admit the bulk of its problems. This is arrogance.

    2) Chan is a hypocrite. He argues Hong Kongers should be controlled and their right to freedom of expression curtailed. And yet he obviously feels he has a right to be a cheerleader for the CPC.

    3) He is not being criticised for criticising the US- it is true even many Americans criticise the US. Rather he is being critisised for his hypocrisy in attacking a country which largely helped expand his fame and fortune whilst utterly ignoring problems in China. As a CPC cheerleader will will obviously never admit China’s many moral wrongs.

    4) Playing the ‘China being bullied’ card is pathetic. China today is a powerful and dominant nation, a rising superpower- hardly a victim of ‘bullying’ Arguably, it is China that bullies smaller Asian neighbours like the Philippines and Vietnam.

    5) As the writer of this article will know full well, it is incredibly difficult to openly criticise the CPC in the Chinese Mainland without facing serious risk. The ONLY way mainland Chinese can have open views is online.

    6) Sovereignty does not give any government the right to do anything it wants to its own people which is essentially what the writer of this article is arguing. Western countries are frequently criticised so what makes China so special? Why should China be above criticism? If China wants to be a member of the international community then it has to accept the scrutiny that any nation is subjected to. Deng Xiaoping probably knew this when he opened China up in 1978.

    7) It never ceases to amase me that Chinese neo-nationalists like the writer of this article take advantage of freedom of expression in the west only to make excuses for a one party regime back in Beijing that responds to dissent with an iron fist.

    8) As a westerner I retain genuine respect for many aspects of China. I am not fundamentally anti-Chinese. But I am fed up with blowhard ‘blame western media’ Chinese nationalism. Nationalism that constantly forces itself onto other countries through the pro-CPC agenda of many overseas Chinese. Nationalism that constantly denies China’s problems whilst claiming its a result of ‘western misunderstandings’ and nationalism that arrogantly believes China is the only country on earth above criticism.

    9) Furthermore, despite the denials, China is actually a very xenophobic and racist society. Yang Rui’s disgusting rant against foreigners- demonising all because of the actions of some, is typical of the ugliness of Chinese neo nationalism. The west proves itself a far more tolerant society because a similar rant from a western news anchor would be met by calls for resignation.

    10) Imagine if a western commentator went to China and criticised the CPC in the Mainland. Oh wait… thats forbidden. Enjoy your time in imperialist Canada, Liu Seahorse!

    Reply
  11. Nathan Hazlett

    I want to add something…

    Some of my comments were perhaps too personal and blowhard. I was more venting against Chinese nationalism in general and I was wrong to make some of the more personal comments against Seahorse Liu…

    Particularly as some of my personal comments were inaccurate. Please accept my sincere apology for those statements- I shouldn’t have made some of those comments so rashly and crudely

    I do however stand by the main points of my post and I still think Chan is a hypocrite and CPC apologist. Perhaps im responding emotionally because whilst im NOT anti-China, I find the CPC hard to stomach.

    I do hope my post is not removed though because they are my sincere sentiments. Again I apologise for the more personal comments. .

    Reply

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