Chinese Hong Kong movie star sex photos scandal results in internet revolution in China
One Chinese website showing a photo said to be of HK film star Zhang Bai Zhi Cecilia Cheung, allegedly taken from Edison Chen’s laptop. Photograph: Dan Chung
One unlikely coalition of pop idols, communist censors, Hong Kong police and a Catholic bishop are fighting to stifle the biggest celebrity sex scandal in the history of the Chinese internet.
All of them are struggling to halt the spread of thousands of lurid digital photographs apparently showing one of Hong Kong’s most famous actors, Edison Chen, in bed with eight of the territory’s top actresses, singers and businesswomen.
The images were illegally copied from a customised pink Macbook belonging to the movie star, best known for the Infernal Affairs police films. They have prompted a media frenzy here that has, in terms of scale and interest, utterly eclipsed the fixation about Britney Spears on the English-language web.
As well as crashing internet servers in celebrity-obsessed Hong Kong, the gossip has spread to the mainland, where one online discussion about the subject generated more than 25m page views and 140,000 comments.
Chinese Hong Kong Police investigating the cause of the scandal have focused on Chen’s pink laptop, which he nicknamed Cotton Candy Mac. According to local newspapers, the photographs were illegally copied from the computer while it was being serviced by technicians.
Since the first images appeared more than two weeks ago, an unknown culprit has uploaded dozens of fresh pictures every day, each time putting more celebrities into more compromising positions.
Emperor Entertainment Group – the management company for Edison Chen and at least one other of the stars pictured in the videos – iinitially claimed the pictures were fabricated. But Chen has since made an apology.
“The lives of many innocent people have been affected by this malicious and criminal conduct. And in this regard, I’m filled with pain, hurt and frustration. I hereby use this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been affected by this strange, strange ordeal,” he said in a short video statement.
The Vancouver-born actor and rap singer called upon anyone in possession of the images not to pass them on.
“I urge you to please destroy them immediately. Let’s help the wounded heal their wounds. I urge you to help the victims and not make it any worse.”
As the pictures spread like wildfire, a similar appeal was made by the John Tong, the Catholic bishop of Hong Kong.
“It is also biblical teaching that we should speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. It is important that we should keep our mind decent and perhaps needless to say, we should not post or circulate pictures,” he told the South China Morning Post.
Criticism has been mixed with sympathy for the victims. Bloggers accused pop singer Gillian Chung of hypocrisy because she was making speeches against pre-marital sex at about the same as she was photographed apparently doing the opposite with Chen.
“I admit that I was naive and very silly, but I’ve grown up now,” Chung told a packed press conference yesterday.
Hong Kong police have arrested eight suspects and warned that people may be prosecuted for sharing the images. This has prompted a march by several hundred free speech activists, who believe the crackdown has gone too far.
But the daily leak of new images has continued on servers in the US and Australia, circulated through photo sharing website Flickr, by email and passed on by hand in the form of shared memory devices.
The gossip has spread rapidly to the mainland, where internet sources say it is dominating celebrity news forums even though censors remove the images almost as soon as they are put up.
On the popular Tianya bulletin board, a single discussion string about the veracity of the pictures has attracted 25.8 million page views and 140,000 comments.
Visitors to the Tianya site also share tips on where to download the latest images, criticism about the behaviour of the stars and – in one or two extreme cases – speculation about when the victims might commit suicide.
The condemnatory tone of many postings has prompted some commentators to turn on the gossipers.
“You people are very hypocritical, scolding the female stars at the same time waiting for new photos and links,” wrote one poster.
Mindful that similar discussion groups have been closed down, along with links to the forbidden images, Tianya switched its tone today.
A new discussion thread highlights the need for morality and links the “mass voyeurism” of the scandal with democracy.
One commentator said it proved mainland-style politics are better than the intrusive democracy of the Hong Kong and the UK.
“Britain has democracy but the biggest selling newspapers there are tabloids, which report all the private matters of the royal family. The US has democracy, but its internet is filled with the Paris Hilton sex video. We have more democracy than Hong Kong.”
Others, however, were dismissive about the significance of the story.
“It is a very big Hong Kong celebrity sex scandal, but I don’t see any deep meaning except that one should beware of geeks,” said another mainland media source, referring to the technicians suspected of taking the images.
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