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Chinese Internet users cool about action star's change of nationality
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Jet Li

The June 17 news that world famous movie star Jet Li has become a Singaporean citizen has caused a stir in China's vast Web community. But on this occasion Chinese Internet users have reacted calmly to the announcement, and there has been no aggressive reaction against the celebrity's personal choice.

Internet users are restrained in their reactions. An online poll on Sina.com, one of China's most influential Web portals, shows that as of June 18 most of the 76,418 respondents polled - 44.7% - agree it is Mr. Li's right to change his citizenship and nobody should interfere. 43.7% of them believe that the move might affect Mr. Li's image among mainland Chinese, but only 7.5% think it will do significant damage.

According to The Business Times of Singapore, Jet Li and his wife Nina have taken Singaporean citizenship. They also spent 19.8 million Singapore dollars (about US$14 million) on an exclusive villa on Binjai Rise last month. Thus Mr. Li becomes the second Chinese celebrity to take Singaporean citizenship, following in the footsteps of leading actress Gong Li. The Business Times also contacted Singapore's Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to confirm the information but a spokeswoman there declined to do so on the grounds of "confidentiality". The Jet Li One Foundation also declined to discuss the matter as it was Mr. Li's "personal business."

Reportedly Mr. Li became a US citizen in 1993. But he has considered moving to Singapore in recent years. Mr. Li has two daughters with his second wife Nina, and the couple attaches a great deal of importance to their education. They are said to want to have their teenage girls educated in a Western environment but in a Chinese style. This makes the culturally-hybrid Singapore a good choice, where their children can speak both English and Chinese, and learn about the two cultures.

In addition, Mr. Li plans to use Singapore as a base to further his charity work. During last September's Forbes Global CEO Conference in Singapore he revealed that he wanted to set up an office of One Foundation in the country, which he said offered the right conditions for developing future non-governmental organization leaders. The Business Times reported that Jet Li One Foundation Singapore was registered in June 2008.

It is reported that many Chinese celebrities have given up their native citizenship and become foreigners. For example, Palme d'Or-winning director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) and his actress wife Chen Hong are US citizens. The well-known actor Jiang Wen (Red Sorghum, Devil on the Doorstep) took French citizenship after marrying his ex-wife, French actress Sandrine Chenivisse. Actor Zhang Tielin is British. Other celebrities have not gone quite so far, choosing Hong Kong citizenship instead. Examples are Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha), Tang Wei (Lust Caution) and Zhou Xun (The Banquet, Painted Skin).

Undoubtedly there are advantages for those celebrities who take foreign citizenship. First, for movie stars of the caliber of Jet Li foreign citizenship facilitates their pursuit of an international career. Visas become less of a problem if they need to travel internationally to make movies. They also have the opportunity to join actors' guilds in countries like the US, Britain, and France, in order to protect their rights.

Unfortunately, most of the established actors who take foreign citizenship do not succeed in broadening their careers in the West. They remain focused on the domestic Chinese market. Instead of promoting Chinese cinema elsewhere in the world, they tend to feed the Chinese market with a series of low-quality, even worthless works. Chen Kaige's fantasy epic The Promise (aka Wu Ji 2005) is a typical example.

In addition, after acquiring foreign citizenship they can evade their legal responsibilities in China. For example, they are no longer subject to China's mandatory one-child policy. Jiang Wen has fathered three children to date; Chen Kaige has two children with his current wife Chen Hong. If they are faced with lawsuits in China, they can easily avoid any proceedings.

This is what makes these celebrities seem to ordinary Chinese like a privileged class, and it can end up by generating resentment among the general public in China.

(China.org.cn by Pang Li June 19, 2009)

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