Chan told a business forum in the southern Chinese province of Hainan that a free society may not be beneficial for China's authoritarian mainland.
"I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," Chan said Saturday. "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we're not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."
He went on to say that freedoms in Hong Kong and Taiwan made those societies "chaotic."
Chan's comments drew applause from a predominantly Chinese audience of business leaders, but did not sit well with lawmakers in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
"He's insulted the Chinese people.Chinese people aren't pets," Hong Kong pro-democracy legislator Leung Kwok-hung told The Associated Press. "Chinese society needs a democratic system to protect human rights and rule of law."
Another lawmaker, Albert Ho, called the comments "racist," adding: "People around the world are running their own countries. Why can't Chinese do the same?"
Former British colony Hong Kong enjoys Western-style civil liberties and some democratic elections under Chinese rule. Half of its 60-member legislature is elected, with the other half picked by special interest groups. But Hong Kong's leader is chosen by a panel stacked with Beijing loyalists.
In democratically self-ruled Taiwan, which split from mainland China during a civil war in 1949, legislator Huang Wei-che said Chan himself "has enjoyed freedom and democracy and has reaped the economic benefits of capitalism. But he has yet to grasp the true meaning of freedom and democracy."
Chan's comments were reported by news outlets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, but were ignored by the mainland Chinese press.
Although Chan was a fierce critic of the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989, which killed at least hundreds, he has not publicly criticized China's government in recent years and is immensely popular on the mainland.
He performed during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics and took part in the Olympic torch relay.
Chan also is vice chairman of the China Film Association, a key industry group.
Related Content from AccessHollywood.com:
VIEW THE PHOTOS: Summer Movie Preview 2009
PLAY IT NOW: Chris Tucker Explores Beijing
PLAY IT NOW: Dish Of Salt: Inside TV's 2009 Paley Festival (April 17, 2009)