Caixin
Oct 16, 2014 05:57 PM

It's Wrong to Punish Wayward Stars by Banning Their Work

A spate of Chinese celebrities, including Jaycee Chan, son of the Hong Kong martial arts film star Jackie Chan, has been detained on drug charges recently. Others in the entertainment business have been accused of frequenting prostitutes.

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has issued a formal notice suspending the broadcast of films, television shows, online dramas and clips involving these directors, scriptwriters and actors, namely anyone "with misdeeds."

I do not agree with such a decree. Chinese law has long abided by the notion that once citizens have been subject to appropriate criminal or administrative penalties, they are not to be discriminated against in employment, work and life.

Not only does the Prison Law stipulate that "released prisoners shall enjoy equal rights with other citizens," the Narcotics Law also says that those who have successfully undergone drug rehabilitation "are not to be discriminated against in education, employment, social security and other aspects."

It is also worth noting that taking drugs or being implicated in paying for sex are not criminal offenses, but rather violations of administrative regulations. Therefore, the recently exposed celebrities should enjoy the same rights as other citizens.

Banning these artists' work is employment discrimination – and is therefore a violation of the law.

People can advocate for public figures to set a moral example, but these figures should not be punished more than the average citizen for their personal moral shortcomings. Because of their fame, the behavior and personal morality of public figures and celebrities gets more attention and has a bigger impact on society. We tend to want these people to serve as role models for the rest of us.

This is the public expectation of stars. But because of basic human weaknesses, many artists are tempted by drugs and prostitutes, just like the rest of the population. These mistakes belong to the personal moral sphere. If they are to be punished, they should be punished just like everyone else. Drug addicts are to be sent to compulsory rehabilitation, while visiting prostitutes is punished with administrative detention or fines. The punishment of average citizens does not involve their employment.

Besides, personal morals do not necessarily have anything to do with creativity, so there is no foundation for banning people's work just because of their morals.

Wang Quan'an, accused of paying for sex, was awarded the prestigious Golden Bear at the 2007 Berlin International Film Festival for his film Tuya's Marriage and is one of the country's most prominent directors.

In short, a personality such as Wang is a national treasure. We should cherish such artists like we cherish pandas. But because of their personal failings, our state apparatus inflicts treatment that not even criminal offenders should receive once they have served their sentences.

Such an approach turns well-intentioned advice and corrective state action into malicious harm. Reputations are ruined and careers are destroyed, and people risk facing financial hardship as a result.

Not only do such punitive measures violate the letter and the spirit of the law, they also reveal a more general tendency toward malice and brutality. We risk corrupting the relationship between the state apparatus and the people, undermining social harmony.

Li Yinhe is a sociologist and columnist for Century Weekly, Caixin's weekly Chinese magazine

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