Threatening to create, in the New York Times’ words, a real “public relations debacle” for China—which has otherwise enjoyed a pretty great relationship with the public so far—actor and guy who doesn’t appreciate people standing in the way of things Christian Bale was roughed up by Chinese government-backed guards while trying to visit a blind lawyer who’s become a hero to human rights advocates. Bale was in Beijing to promote the upcoming The Flowers Of War, Zhang Yimou’s film that has become the most expensive Chinese movie ever made, thanks to partial backing from a government-owned bank.
More importantly, it’s also the country’s official submission for the Academy Awards, and government officials, reportedly, have expressed hope that it will give China its first Oscar (sparking some fear they will then use this to synthesize their own Oscars—Oscars more powerful than we can possibly imagine). Accordingly, they’ve been making a big fuss over it, including hosting a première at one of Beijing’s biggest government buildings, and doing everything to roll out the very, very red carpet for Christian Bale and act like everything is awesome in China right now.
Unfortunately, then Bale went and ruined it all by straying off that red carpet, heading eight hours outside of town to a village in Shandong Province in search of Chen Guangcheng, the blind attorney who represented thousands of women who had been the victims of insane family planning measures, including forced sterilizations and abortions. In return, he was sentenced to four and a half years of house arrest on fabricated, ridiculous charges of destroying property and even inciting a traffic-blocking protest, all allegedly committed while he was already imprisoned in his house, awaiting trial. Since his conviction, many other people have tried and failed to meet Chen, and Bale was no different, despite being China’s favorite international movie star of the moment. A CNN crew was there to capture the encounter with the four guards stationed outside Chen’s property, which reporter Steven Jiang describes thusly:
"I am here to see Chen Guangcheng," the "Dark Knight" actor said and I translated, with correspondent Stan Grant and cameraman Brad Olson next to us.
"Go away!" the plainclothes guards barked, pushing us back.
Amid the scuffling and yelling, dozens more guards in olive-green, military-style overcoats — and two gray minivans — emerged from the other side of the checkpoint, all coming toward us.
"Why can I not visit this free man?" Bale asked repeatedly, only to receive punches from guards aiming for his small camera as they tried to drag him away from the rest of us.
Jiang continues to describe how they retreated to their car, only to be chased by a van for 40 minutes over bumpy roads, resulting in “a broken car, a damaged camera—and a Hollywood star disappointed at—but not shocked by—his failure to see a personal hero.” “What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is," Bale explained—though you have to expect Bale suspected something like this might happen. And it probably worked out better this way: The resulting press fallout has definitely brought more attention to Chen’s situation, which far fewer people probably knew about before Batman got involved. Anyway, with China hoping to curry stateside favor and finally win itself an Oscar, they’re going to have to work pretty hard to improve their international image when it comes to human rights, which history suggests they’ll probably get on right away.