HONG KONG–Love usually means never having to say you’re sorry. But in the case of a nearly completed Chinese film, apologizing seems to be the best way to express love towards one’s country in China.
A social media campaign “Say Sorry to China” went viral in Taiwan and Hong Kong this week after Vicki Zhao Wei, a Chinese filmmaker, decided to replace her lead actor Leon Dai. Dai, a supporter of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan as well as the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, was booted from her new movie for fear of jangling sensitive Chinese government nerves.
The party’s powerful Communist Youth League accused Zhao’s almost wrapped movie “No Other Love” for promoting Taiwanese independence and warned her against “touching the bottom line of national feelings.”
The criticism was quickly followed by broadsides in Chinese People’s Liberation Army newspapers and other online forums that called for a boycott of the film and stirred up controversies inside and outside of China for the better part of this month.
So sorry …
In the end, everyone had to apologize. Actor Dai issued a 3,000-word long apology on Weibo and denied he was an advocate for Taiwan independence. The studio, whose shareholders include Ali Pictures, the movie arm of Alibaba Group, also denied it is advocating Taiwan independence.
Zhao, on the other hand, retracted her support for Dai’s political stance, offering a sincere apology for using the wrong person because she “cannot tolerate any falsity and ambiguity especially regarding national interests.”
Apology serves to pacify anger, move past and get back to where it was. But these days, it seems to happen too often when China is involved. Zhao became the second high profile case in the Chinese entertainment industry this year after Chou Tzu-yu, a 16 year-old K-pop singer, was forced to apologize for waving a Republic of China national flag, — a symbol for pro-independence — in January.
Fear of offending China and its netizens has spilled over to Hong Kong, where cosmetics giant Lancome abruptly cancelled a mini-concert last month with Denise Ho. Ho vocally supported the Occupy Central Movement in 2014. Following an outcry in state media, Ho has been barred from performing in China.
All this has set the scene for the latest apology to China campaign, which calls for Taiwanese and Hong Kongers to post pictures of what they want to apologize for, and which has become the rage on social media.
To show off their creativity, one poster expressed gratitude for the 1.3 billion people in China who bear the Chinese Communist Party for the world. The other suggested everyone to say sorry to almighty China before dinner every night because “we should all thank the Chinese for giving us food and letting us know its greatness.”
It’s about the money
Why sorry has become a buzz word in China? Well, money matters. Entertainment companies – be they movie studios or teen model agencies – can’t afford to lose a market of 1.3 billion souls.
As in the case of Zhao’s “No Other Love,” a storm of publicity and market attentions is always nice — but not if the movie cannot be shown in the world’s second largest cinema market.
That’s probably the reason why Zhao Wei has come to grips with reality and cut ties with Dai. This, despite the fact that her move requires a remake of her movie. That is if she still believes that she can get the movie shown in China.
The growing negative sentiment surrounding the movie has been especially strong since it reflects the general hatred against material over achievers like Zhao Wei, who became an icon after becoming one of the wealthiest people in the entertainment industry before turning 40 this year.
The actress-turned-director made over HK$4 billion (US$512 million) from Reorient Group, a joint venture she has with her husband Huang You Long through Alibaba Group. They turned more active in the Hong Kong stock market, first spinning off its investment Creative China last November before taking over a shell company called Sino Golf this month.
Now a Singaporean, Zhao also reportedly snapped up a French winery, a move that didn’t sit too well with her critics who accused her of getting rich through speculation rather than acting.
The roots of patriotism
A larger issue that underlies the criticism of Zhao is the difference between China’s unique style of patriotism vs. the rest of the world.
Unlike United States, whose patriotism springs from the stems from respect of a constitution that protects peoples’ rights, China wants its people to respect the ruling Communist Party, a point noted by veteran Hong Kong veteran commentator Lee Yee.
“In China, love has become an amulet,” wrote Lee. “Love, if it is from the bottom of your heart, cannot become an affection to a tool or machine.
“If it is because of love, one has to twist his/her religion, belief or value set, and sacrifices the independent and free thinking, it is only a fake, self-depicting and masturbating love.”
To many, sorry seems to be the hardest word, but the cost of not saying so could be high in China.
Ben Kwok is a freelance journalist. He had over 15 years in financial journalism with South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Economic Journal and Ming Pao.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.