Courtesy Rebel Pepper
A cartoon mocking Christian Bale's confrontation with Chinese security was posted on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, on Friday.
BEIJING – Just days after Christian Bale made a red carpet appearance in Beijing for the premiere of his blockbuster new movie, “The Flowers of War,” about the 1937 Japanese sacking of Nanking, he made even bigger headlines in China off-screen on Friday.
Bale invited CNN’s Beijing bureau crew to accompany him Thursday as he attempted to visit Chen Guangcheng, an activist who has been under house arrest since his release from a four-year-long jail sentence last year.
The 40-year-old Chen, a blind self-taught lawyer became a persecuted dissident after he filed a lawsuit in 2006 on behalf of residents of his hometown, Linyi, over the city’s practice of forced abortions and sterilizations, a municipal policy that runs counter to national regulations.
He was thrown in prison on what human rights activists say were trumped-up charges of “intentional damage of public property” and “gathering people to block traffic.”
Related link: Video reveals blind Chinese activist's plight
Since Chen’s release in September 2010, dozens of Chinese and foreign reporters, as well as supporters, have gone to Dongshigu village, in Shandong Province, to try to visit him, but all have blocked from even entering the town. Some were even violently manhandled and beaten up by unidentified thugs, and some TV crews had their equipment damaged or confiscated.
Bale was no exception.
He and the crew were stopped at a road checkpoint when government security guards wearing green army coats asked what they were doing and punched the camera. When Bale took out his flip camera to record, he was punched and shoved, exactly the same treatment the CNN crew received just a few months earlier when they tried to visit.
After the scuffle, the crew got back into their vehicle and drove off, but they were followed by a security van for about 40 minutes.
"I'm not brave doing this," Bale said on camera. "The local people who are standing up to the authorities, who are visiting Chen and his family and getting beaten or detained, I want to support them."
In a later interview on CNN, Bale said, “It’s amazing a superpower like China is actually terrified of this man. It shows such an intrinsic weakness within the fabric of the country.”
He also stressed that he did not inform any members of the movie crew in order not to implicate them with his own actions.
‘Pandaman vs. Batman!’
Bale’s confrontation with the security guards soon made headlines on Twitter and Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like, but government-controlled, social media forum. Posts about the encounter spread rapidly on Friday morning with some joking headlines like “Pandaman vs. Batman!”
Andy Wong / AP
English actor Christian Bale speaks to journalists on the red carpet as he arrives for the debut of the Zhang Yimou-directed movie.
The cartoonist known as “Rebel Pepper” who posted the Pandaman vs. Batman cartoon on Weibo said he was somewhat surprised that Bale was treated exactly the same as everyone else.
“Dongshigu village is the only place in China that everyone is treated the same [and roughed up] no matter where you are from,” Rebel Pepper said during a phone interview with NBC News.
Some cynics noted it could be a publicity stunt for Bale's new movie, but most expressed their respect and appreciation.
A Weibo user named Shenan wrote, “You could pretend not to see or hear. That blind man is not your relative or friend in a faraway foreign country. Even if the whole 1.3 billion people were jailed, it’s not your business. You really didn’t have to ask for the roughing up, Batman.”
By Friday afternoon, Weibo administrators censored all the posts related to Bale’s attempted visit. Steven Jiang, the CNN producer who was with Bale, found all his Weibo posts on their journey could not be forwarded.
It is a common practice for social media censors to jump in and try to put out the fire online before the flames get out of control. But determined Weibo users still spread the news with puns or pictures too difficult to censor.
A post on Weibo joked that Zhang’s movie “Flowers of the War," would be pulled from Chinese cinemas. But another user said, “No, the movie will be there, only all the parts Christian Bale is in will be deleted!”
Bale left China today for the U.S., but Chen still remains off-limit to all his visitors.