Popular Hong Kong comedian’s new political role tells a not-so-funny story about the political environment in China

Alia | January 18th, 2013 - 6:04 am

Stephen Chow, or Zhou Xingchi in Chinese, is one of Hong Kong’s most iconic movie stars and the most-loved Hong Kong comedian in mainland. His duology A Chinese Odyssey has long been and still is a cult classic among mainland movies fans. But this week, in addition to love from his millions of fans, Chow is also found to receive some serious “love from Beijing” (From Beijing with Love is one of his best-known movies).

Chow was appointed/”elected” (whatever) one of the 978 delegates of the People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) of Guangdong Province.

Anyone who knows about how the CPPCC works actually won’t be very surprised at Chow’s new role. The CPPCC is a parliamentary-like body that functions in advisory roles to represent non Communist Party interests in the society. Delegates of CPPCC usually include members from other political parties (yes, China has more than one political party, but they are all under the leadership of the CCP) and social organizations in China, as well as a range of independent members, many of which are often from businesses, media, intellectuals and arts.

The concept behind the CPPCC is the United Front. The United Front is originally a strategy developed during China’s civil war by CCP, a communist party representing the interests of the have-nots, to unite all fronts that could possibly be united and to ask help from the haves. Supposedly, China’s Communist Party is the “people’s front,” and the CPPCC is the “united front” + others. So, it’s actually very common for the CPPCC to recruit famous actors and actresses, whom, in some cases, are not considered part of the working class in China…

Chinese netizens hyped over the news, partly out of their love of Chow, and partly out of the fact that many of them don’t think being a CPPCC member is an honor.

Chow fans dug out scenes from his old movies to prove that this new role is a dream-coming-true moment for him. For example, in one of his early movies Hail the Judge, he played a county-level official in ancient China; and one of his monologues started with, “[When I was little,] I made a wish, I want to be a decent official [when grown up].” In another movie From Beijing with Love, he played an underdog who was recruited by Beijing as a secret agent. The movies started with, “The country finally has a job for you!”

The country finally has a job for you!

But not everybody read the news with a light heart. Many ridiculed Chow’s new role to criticize China’s political environment. There has long been a joke that the best Oscar-worthy actors and actresses are not in Hollywood, but among Chinese government officials. The appointment of Chow as CPPCC member is seen as a “proof.” Netizen 蜀山逍遥_ commented: “Chow accepts the appointment only to learn acting from the delegates.” 好人二狗哥 also joked, “The new manifesto of CPPCC members: ‘we are but actors.’”

Besides sarcasm, there are also cool heads. Netizen 枕书入眠 commented, “There is nothing to be hyped about. CPPCC is nothing but a symbolic existence.” The sad news is that there is certain truth in what 枕书入眠 said.

Earlier this year when villagers in Nanyang was mourning over the several hundreds of family graves “flattened” by local government, another CPPCC member Zhao Keluo, a successful local businessman, stood out and practiced his rights as a CPPCC member – to make suggestions to the government to stop destroying people’s tombs for the purpose of development. The result?  He was asked to apologize for his improper words and actions, and later removed from local CPPCC. In his widely-circulated “A Letter of Confession from a Province-level CPPCC Delegate,” he said:

“I thought that the provincial CPPCC has the right to democratically supervise the government and participate in discussions of policy-making. It turns out that I was too naive [in thinking that way]. I took my role as a CPPCC member too seriously.”

Will Mr. Chow be a decent official as he wished in his movie? To that question, Chow answered in an interview, “I feel honored. My focus is to propose bills related to movie-making cooperation between Hong Kong and the mainland, as well as the promotion of Chinese movies to the rest of the world.”

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