HONG KONG – Jackie Chan's comments that freedom may not be good for China were taken out of context, his spokesman said Tuesday, while Facebook users and Chinese scholars condemned the veteran actor on the Internet in a spreading backlash.
The 55-year-old star of the "Rush Hour" action comedies caused a huge uproar after he told a business forum on Saturday that it may not be good for authoritarian China to become a free society.
"I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," Chan said Saturday, adding freedoms in his native Hong Kong and Taiwan made those societies "chaotic." Taiwan, which split from China in 1949, is democratic and Hong Kong, a former British colony now ruled by China, enjoys some free elections.
"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 said.
Hong Kong and Taiwanese legislators lashed out at the comments, with some accusing Chan of insulting the Chinese race.
Solon So, the chief executive of Chan's company JC Group and his main spokesman, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday the actor was referring to freedom in the entertainment industry and not Chinese society at large.
Chan was speaking at a panel discussion about Asian entertainment industries and was asked to discuss movie censorship in China.
"Some people with ulterior motives deliberately misinterpreted what he was saying," So said.
But Chan discussed China as a country — not its entertainment industry specifically — immediately before making his comments about freedom, according to an AP reporter who attended Chan's panel discussion in the southern Chinese island province Hainan.
"Sure, we've got 5,000 years of history, but our new country has just been around for 60 years and the reforms for 30 years. It's hard to compare us with other countries," Chan said, referring to China's communist rule and capitalist-style reforms under the communist regime.
"But I feel that in the 10 years after Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule, I can gradually see, I'm not sure if it's good to have freedom or not," Chan continued.
Meanwhile, the public backlash against Chan grew.
A group of Chinese scholars published a letter on the Internet on Monday accusing Chan of "not understanding how precious freedom is," even though "free Hong Kong provided the conditions for you to become an international action star."
A Facebook group set up by Hong Kong users calling for Chan to be exiled to North Korea had drawn more than 2,600 members by Tuesday. The group also posted form letters urging Hong Kong's Baptist University and Academy for Performing Arts to strip Chan of honorary degrees they gave the actor.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board, for which Chan serves as an ambassador, had received 17 complaints as of Monday that his comments "hurt the image of Hong Kong and aren't reflective of Hong Kong people," a publicist said. She declined to give her name because of company policy.
The University of Hong Kong's students' union said in a statement Monday Chan's comments "cast shame on the entire Hong Kong citizenry" and "may poison the younger generation."
Opposition Taiwanese politicians on Monday demanded that the city government of Taipei strip Chan of his role as ambassador of the Deaf Olympic Games to be held in the Taiwanese capital in September.