As we all know, politics can be entertaining, and the entertainment business is full of politics. But when entertainers get into real politics, it raises eyebrows.
Every time China's two Sessions get into full swing, a handful of entertainment celebrities are thrust into the spotlight - not for their achievements in their own fields, but for the way they represent their industry in the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
If I were a member sitting next to them, I would be ignored by all the reporters swarming around the movie stars and big-name directors. But you cannot blame the media. What Gong Li or Feng Xiaogang blurt out will certainly arouse more interest from many readers than, say, the three unknowns who represent China's 100-million-plus migrant workers.
Our society is poisoned by celebrity worship. Reputations, good or bad, has monetary value. Like it or not, the bigger the names, the more weight their words carry. At least more influence. Viewed in another context, it is the result of more openness in public discourse. Imagine the movie stars repeating lines from a prepared script endorsed by their superiors.
So, do not laugh at Gong Li last year filing a motion titled "Environmental protection should start with me". Yes, it sounds like a schoolgirl's essay assignment, but it is clear she meant what she wrote.
We should understand that these high-profile stars are taking baby steps in the initial stage of a political process called democracy. They were not born with the talent to study social issues or sift through public opinion. Unlike their professional performances, which are edited or rehearsed for public consumption, climbing up the learning ladder in the Great Hall of the People, in front of a cluster of cameras and microphones, can be awkward.
Fortunately, more of them come prepared. Feng Xiaogang, director of many hit movies, proposed more punishment for the illegal downloading of films and television shows. Ni Ping defended the use of dialects in drama, and her arguments were convincing since she has the double roles of TV hostess and actress. And then, there were the proposals typical of bleeding-heart liberals, such as Pu Cunxin's call to ban smoking and Yang Lan's for energy-saving architecture.
More vague than Gong Li's motion was Gong Hanlin's appeal to "raise the aesthetic standard of the nation", which involves more filtering of content. I admire his good intention, but has not he thought about the possible negative fallout?
Not every entertainer-cum-temp politician treats this event with seriousness. Some probably see their presence as window-dressing. For those not politically inclined, the change of status - albeit temporary - could be onerous. Representing the people, even a small number, is serious business. Some are better off sticking to their day jobs, in which they excel. And I do not blame Liu Xiang for his absence. He is contributing much more to his country by competing in international games than, say, asking the government to pay more attention to sports.
NPC deputies and CPPCC members should guard the interests of their professions, but they should not go above national interests. When Ling Jiefang, pen name February River, suggested tax exemption for writers "to stimulate cultural creativity", he was rightly criticized, even by his peers.
The biggest news this year was Zhao Benshan's failure to make the cut as an NPC deputies. The popular comedian is the "pride of Liaoning", but he was voted out at the province level. People are making distinctions between good entertainers and good representatives, and the media should follow suit.
(China Daily 03/08/2008 page4)