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Bale’s confrontation thus offers enlightening instruction on what authoritarian governments like China will and will not tolerate. As long as Bale was there to do a film the government finds ideologically congenial, he was welcome. But as soon as he turned his attention to a critic of the government in Chen Guangcheng, Chinese security turned violently against him. Indeed, the Chinese government confirmed as much, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman complaining that Bale “was not invited to fabricate news or shoot films in a certain village.”
Chen of course is just one of many dissidents that the Chinese government has sought to silence. For these brave activists, 2011 has been a particularly difficult year. According to the human rights watchdog Freedom House, China over the past year stepped up its arbitrary detention and harassment of activists and human rights lawyers. In part this was the government’s reaction to the Nobel Committee’s decision to honor the jailed Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiabo with a Nobel Prize. In response, the government launched a severe crackdown on Liu’s family, including his wife, as well as his supporters, and associates. For those targeted, there is little legal recourse. Sentenced without a fair trial, they are routinely tortured and abused in prison.
To his credit, Christian Bale has drawn attention not only to the plight of an embattled activist but also to a picture of China too often forgotten by the Western media tribunes who sings its economic praises. For all the progress the country has made in recent years, its human rights-record remains, as Bale rightly observed, “disgusting.” Actors and political activism are seldom an encouraging combination. Occasionally, though, even Hollywood gets it right.
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