OPINION> Chen Weihua
Why fuss over Zhang on beach?
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-01-10 07:47

It's really futile to debate over whether Chinese film star Zhang Ziyi should be condemned for sunbathing topless while frolicking with her Jewish boyfriend on the beach, or should she have at least some right to privacy regarding her personal life.

Of course, it is understandable that many of Zhang's fans the world over are disappointed to see her in a photograph half naked on the beach, an image far different from her heart-winning roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Forever Enthralled. But we should know, the Zhang we see on the big screen is not really Zhang, but a character she is portraying in the film.

The girl in the photograph, sporting a red bikini, prancing around on the Caribbean island of St. Barts, however, is the real Zhang.

There's nothing immoral about it, though she, being a public figure, has been accused of behaving frivolously. It's not as if she was posing for the American paparazzi.

It's true that Zhang's image, as it came across from the photographs published in newspapers across the globe last week, could well be considered sinful, according to China's feudal rules and even our own values not more than three decades ago. But it's out of place to label the behavior as improper in today's time and age, especially on the other side of the planet.

The controversy, which has clearly been blown out of proportion, is not the same as Edison Chen's pornographic photo scandal, exposed about a year back. Many have tried to compare the two incidents, labeling the Zhang case as the "sex-photo-gate of 2009".

Let's make it clear. While many sex-explicit photos of female stars taken by Edison truly challenged moral boundaries, Zhang was only being intimate with her fianc on a private beach, with no clue that she was being filmed. We all know Zhang is serious about her relationship with the Jewish billionaire Vivi Nevo.

Surely, it is not the first time some of our narrow-minded folks have felt nationalistic, or racist and sexist, as I would like to describe, when their beloved Chinese actress dates or marries a foreigner, or for that matter, even secures a foreign passport, as in the recent case of Gong Li.

Interracial relationships and marriages are bound to rise as China becomes more closely connected with the rest of the world.

The most ridiculous idea thrown in by a fan was to put a ban on Zhang, just like the authorities banned actress Tang Wei, whose nude scene in Lust and Caution apparently embarrassed our society.

The only saving grace in this entire drama is the sympathy and support pouring out of the Internet for Zhang.

As we enter the Chinese Year of the Ox, let's hope and pray Zhang and her Jewish fianc walk down the aisle, which Zhang has made it clear she intends to.

When we look at the photographs, why can't we just see a couple in love, enjoying a sunny day on the beach?

That said, I think it is unnecessary for Zhang to feel angry or enraged, threatening to drag the websites, circulating the compromising photos, to court.

She would have a reason to be angry had the release of these photos not coincided with an official crackdown on vulgar and unhealthy Internet content, unless, of course, she or her lover staged the entire scene for publicity, as some have speculated.

In most parts of the world, the media is free to report on any aspect of the lives of public figures as long as the information is true and not printed or aired with "actual malice".

The reason is simple: public figures make profits from the public due to their fame, and so the public has the right to know what they do and how they live.

But what do moralities have to do with Zhang sunbathing? And why should Zhang be so bothered?

E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 01/10/2009 page4)