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Last updated: December 16, 2011 1:07 pm
Chinese security officials manhandled Christian Bale, the Welsh actor who played Batman, as he tried to visit a blind activist kept under house arrest, as China’s push for greater soft power collides with its human rights violations.
The Hollywood star was following in the footsteps of dozens of Chinese who have tried to visit Chen Guangcheng, a self-trained lawyer who has campaigned against forced abortions. Many have been beaten by plain clothes officers who guard the village where he has been detained for 15 months.
A CNN video of the incident is drawing global attention to Mr Chen’s plight and the way China treats its citizens. One Chinese internet user joked that “Batman has been defeated by Kung fu Panda”.
Separately, Chinese media on Friday said Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer who had been informally detained since early last year, was being sent to prison. Earlier this year, Ai Weiwei, the artist and government critic, was detained for 81 days without explanation.
Mr Bale was in China to promote Flowers of War, a new Chinese movie in which he stars that some have denounced as government propaganda. CNN posted footage of Mr Bale’s scuffle with guards on its website on Friday, the day the film opened in Chinese cinemas.
The video, shot on Thursday, shows several burly Chinese men walking towards Mr Bale and the CNN crew and then pushing them back and telling them to leave. Chinese internet users praised Mr Bale on Friday.
“I hope ... that Flowers of War gets an award and Bale gets up and says Free CGC [Chen Guangcheng],” wrote one person on Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblog.
Flowers of War tells the story of a US mortician, played by Mr Bale, who tries to save Chinese women and children from a massacre by Japanese soldiers in Nanjing, then the Chinese capital, in 1937.
Some critics have denounced the film as a piece of anti-Japanese propaganda, a charge Bale has rejected as he promoted the movie in China over the past week.
The movie is directed by Zhang Yimou, the director who became famous for his critical films such as Raise the Red Lantern, but has more recently used his skills to help the ruling Communist party project its image abroad, including by presiding over the opening ceremony to the Beijing Olympics.
China has submitted Flowers of War, the most expensive Chinese movie ever made, for the foreign language film category at the Oscars.
Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, appealed to China last month to review its treatment of Mr Chen. Chris Smith, a US Republican lawmaker, failed to get a visa last month for a trip to China on which he had said he intended to visit Mr Chen.
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