Screen capture of Chan's Jan. 24 performance
Screen capture of Chan's Jan. 24 performance
CCTV

The COVID-19 propaganda war in and around China now includes a familiar face: There's only one Jackie!

The martial arts movie legend, who is a native of Hong Kong, has long since evolved into a fervent supporter and spokesman for the Communist regime on the mainland. Now critics of Beijing, both inside China as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, are taking shots at Chan for being a mouthpiece for the alleged cover-up of the coronavirus outbreak. Taipei-based daily Liberty Times reports criticism of Chan began spreading on the Chinese-language internet last week after a CCTV Jan. 24 televised performance reemerged of Chan surrounded by hundreds of dancers performing a patriotic song, in response to news around the world of coronavirus spreading in China. "Does my country look sick?", says one refrain of the elaborate song-and-dance routine aboard a massive (and crowded) cruise ship.

In retrospect, with thousands having died since, Chan's chest-thumping looks more than a little bit off-tune: "This walking disaster! Watch out for the bad luck he is bringing!", one Chinese commented on social media last week. Another added: "Jackie's endorsement, China's demise!"

More recently, Chan appearing more subdued on Instagram, advised his fans to follow social distancing advice. The 66-year-old star ends the bilingual video with "Go China! Go the World!" in Chinese, and just "Go!" in the English version.

This is not the first time Chan has been under fire for his overt nationalism and support of the regime, including criticism of anti-government protesters and regional rivals. "Hong Kong and Taiwan have too much freedom," he declared in 2012. More recently he declared himself China's "national flag guard," demonstrating his loyalty to the Chinese authorities during the months of anti-government protests last year in Hong Kong.

Writing after that incident in The South China Morning Post, Chiu-Ti Jansen said the Chinese government's policy of leveraging soft power through celebrities, like Chan, is short-sighted for all. "It seems certain that there will be more pressure on entertainers to declare their positions and also more policing of their public statements. Stars with international reach must be thoughtful, if not strategic, before endorsing any side." With a deadly virus now spreading worldwide, that seems more relevant than ever.

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