You can hardly mention the word Hong Kong these days without a student bringing up the lurid sex scandal involving Edison Chen and some notable female Hong Kong Stars. Most of my students have expressed their indignation towards the actor who was once adored by teenage girls across Asia. “I will never watch one of his movies again,” a student confidently stated in one of my classes recently. She explained that it would be too much of a distraction to watch him act now that she had seen the racy photos. Of course, the “outrage” that was felt by my Chinese students and friends did not prevent them from taking a good long look at the leaked photos. The speed at which those 1300 photos were populated across the internet was remarkable for a country that portrays itself as conservative and traditional. And it was not just a matter of some overzealous sex bloggers posting the photos everywhere. Everyday Chinese citizens, especially college students, viewed the photos and then called their friends over to watch or passed them on by email and QQ (the Chinese version of AIM and the Chinese knockoff of ICQ). Thus, the photos spread like wildfire and the Chinese Government were powerless to do anything about it.
This hypocrisy which saw Chinese citizens outwardly condemning the photos and the actions of Edison Chen while at the same time they were eagerly perusing through every photo they could find leads to an interesting question. Is the negative reaction to this scandal simply another example of Chinese people saying what they think the older generation wishes to hear but acting in quite a different manner? Other news reports from China this year suggest that a quiet yet nonetheless powerful sexual revolution is taking place among the youth of China. The revolution, like in other countries, is taking occurring among the young population. But it is a ‘hush-hush’ event and officially the discussion of sex or the engaging in premarital sex is still frowned upon. Thus, it is very likely that many of my students and friends are not reacting negatively to Chen’s photos from their own feelings but rather from a collective cultural feeling that still has some influence in China.
The fallout from this scandal also demonstrates what I have always assumed to be true in China. Talking about sex may be culturally taboo in public but behind close doors, the topics (and the acts) thrive especially among young people. In other words, Chinese people are like any other people around the world; sex fascinates them. That’s human nature. Nevertheless, it is comical to observe how Chinese people will go to great lengths to avoid the subject in a public setting.
When I press my students about their true feelings regarding the Chen photo scandal, most of them admit that his actions do not take away his worth as an actor. They also acknowledge that the scandal is comparable to similar episodes amongst Hollywood stars in the US. They realize as much that these kinds of scandals in the US seem to enhance people’s careers as opposed to destroying them.
But Edison Chen’s career in China may not be over. Just today, there was a report on QQ regarding the return of Chen to Hong Kong. My friends tell me that he has been in some new television advertisements. And it has been well over a month since the scandal blew up. Maybe the indignation has quieted down. Or maybe it was never really there to begin with. Only time will tell.