In China speech is so unfree that you have to veil your criticism of the government as a diatribe against Charlie Sheen

Originally posted elsewhere on 03/10/2011

Blogger, Hao Leifeng, has posted an opinion piece in The Global Times entitled, Charlie Sheen is not filial. It is a fascinating piece in which the author compares Asian and Western cultures and offers words of advice. The word, “filial”, is not much used in English, but in brief the title is suggesting that Charlie Sheen is not playing the part of a good son because his father, Martin Sheen, had strongly advised Charlie to keep his private life private, but Charlie continues to relish the lime light. Anyway that’s what it appears to be about on the face of the matter. However a closer reading suggests that Charlie’s situation is being used by the author to criticize the powers-that-be in China, but in a veiled way that allows him plausible deniability.

Since Charlie Sheen’s employers were unhappy with his behavior, the author says

Why not take a tip from the Chinese business community, and make visits to a KTV parlor part of Sheen’s workday?

This “KTV parlor” stuff was new to me. After looking about on the Internet a bit, I learned that a KTV parlor was a “Karaoke lounge”. So I am wondering why Leifeng thinks that Sheen should take up singing. But then I stumble across this explanation at Flickr:

Shanghai is littered with KTV (Karaoke) shops. Some are apparently fronts for prostitution.

Oh snap! So that’s what he meant. This seems more of a veiled swipe at Chinese business practices than a swipe at Charlie Sheen.

Then he commented on Charlie’s claim that he has two girlfriends whom he brings to bed at the same time. To this Leifeng says,

Is he too poor to set up his wives and mistresses in different houses?

So he seems to be suggesting that this is how the well-to-do would manage their love affairs in China. Perhaps another veiled criticism of Chinese behavior?

The author does say that Charlie has “lost face” as a result of his public rants. To address this, Leifeng suggests that Martin Sheen should weep publicly as he apologizes for his son’s behavior, following the exampe of Li Gang’s father. I didn’t know what this was referring to either (click here to read a Wikipedia post about it). Apparently, Li Gang was a government official. His son hit two individuals with his car, killing one individual and injuring another. He then left the scene, so it was a classic “hit and run.” When approached by law enforcement officials the son said, “My father is Li Gang” (我爸是李刚)”, apparently believing this would prevent him from being held culpable for his deeds. Now people use this phrase sarcastically in China whenever they want to avoid responsibility for something. Although the government did try to cover up the incident originally, it became widely known anyways. Five days after the hit and run, Li Gang wept during a publicized apology. According to the Wikipedia article:

The apology was rejected by the victims’ families, the elder brother of Chen Xiaofeng believing the apology to be a political stunt.

Hmm. So is the author of Charlie Sheen is not filial sincere in his call for Martin Sheen’s apology, or is this just another occasion to throw another swipe at the elite? I’m going with “swipe at the Chinese elite.”

The author also holds up Edison Chen as an example for Sheen to emulate, whom he says apologized for his scandalous behavior and then slipped away to Canada. There is a Wikipedia article on that incident, too. Apparently Edison Chen had photographed himself while engaged in sexual relations with a series of six identifiable women. The women were high-profile personalities, and it was a big deal when these photos eventually made it onto the internet.

At least one woman, Gillian Chung, apparently considered and then ruled out suicide because of the additional harm it would cause those who cared about her. Here is an account of Cecilia Cheung, another female pictured in the sex-related photos:

She heavily criticised Chen for shedding crocodile tears, saying that instead of calling to apologise, he had not returned calls and switched off his telephone when the incident came to light last year. She accused him of hypocrisy in a bid to win the public’s forgiveness while hurting others caught up in the scandal.

According to this Wikipedia article, following the photo scandal and his tearful apology:

On 21 February 2008 he publicly announced that he intended to step away “indefinitely” from the Hong Kong entertainment industry due to the sex photo scandal in 2008. However, he returned to the industry in 2010 and he stated “indefinitely” could mean 5 minutes or 2000 years.

So it would appear that the specific, scandalous incidents identified as excellent role models for Charlie Sheen are actually stories about hypocrisy, power, and corruption among the Chinese elite. I imagine that the Charlie Sheen story is getting a lot of play in the Chinese press, and it is being used to show how degraded and immoral the west is when compared to the east. However the author of Charlie Sheen is not filial cleverly joins in this interpretation, while using irony to suggest that the east is not at all morally superior, something that can be plainly seen in the immoral, scandalous behavior of their own elite.

But then again, I’m a westerner with very limited understanding of Chinese culture. Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong and the author really just wanted to point out how unfilial Charlie Sheen was. Interestingly the Shanghai List has also remarked on the Charlie Sheen is not filial article:

We have no idea how on earth this “op-ed” made it through the Global Times’ editors, but clearly some expat writer is taking the piss out of them. The writer’s pseudonym “Hao Leifeng” is a play on Comrade Lei Feng, who is held forth by the Chinese Communist Party as an icon of altruism, modesty and dedication.

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