OPINION> Raymond Zhou
A mirror has two faces
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-03-06 07:55

A week ago, Cecilia Cheung gave a television interview in Hong Kong. It was her first public appearance since the sex photo disgrace more than a year ago.

Before Lunar New Year's Day in 2007, a stream of very explicit photos popped up online, showing Hong Kong heartthrob Edison Chen in the middle of sexual activities with several female entertainers. Cheung's images were mostly solo, but extremely graphic. It was later revealed that Chen had taken these photos, which were leaked after being stolen by a computer repairman. After days of silence, one of the female stars, Gillian Chung, made a public apology and Chen later publicly announced he was to retire from the Hong Kong entertainment industry.

Edison Chen (center) leaves the Supreme Court in Vancouver late last month surrounded by bodyguards. [Agencies]

But it appears Edison Chen never apologized to his partners in the incident. When Cheung tried to contact him in the early days while the public was still unsure whether the photos were doctored, Chen refused to answer the phone. Instead, he went into hiding in North America, where he hailed from originally.

In the interview, Cheung was bitter that Edison Chen was making grand and vague statements such as the female victims should come out and stand up for themselves. "He is starting another career in another country. But what about us?" Cheung asked.

Whether Edison Chen did or did not console his partners in private, it would probably have made no difference to their public image. Both Cheung and Gillian Chung have essentially suspended their entertainment careers. But I agree Cheung does have a point.

Although I could only surmise what was going on behind the scenes, everything seems to indicate that Edison Chen is not a "gentleman", and I'm not talking about the sex photos. Granted, the sex and the photos happened between consenting adults. But Chen has a responsibility to protect them from leaking.

Once the photos made waves online, Chen hid from both the public and the female victims. He first posted a video clip in which he cursed and cursed, and then, after what seemed like an eternity, came back to Hong Kong and made a public apology, escorted by a big entourage. Since then, rumors have not died down about his "comeback".

Chen acts like a rich spoilt brat, and I have every reason to believe he is just that. Everything came to him so easily - he was born with wealth and good looks and his career was practically handed to him on a silver platter - that he did not have a clue how to behave like a responsible adult. Leaving aside the moral issue concerning the photos and what they portrayed, he should have come out and shouldered the blame. Everything being equal, it was he who inadvertently leaked the smoking gun, no pun intended.

Yet, when I browsed online opinions, I was shocked that Chen got more sympathy than his female co-stars. There were a lot of postings, presumably from sex-starved young men, who did not conceal their envy for Chen. Some cheered him as a hero outright.

More netizens denounced the women for their depravity. If they hold such a high moral standard, shouldn't they be condemning all parties with equal gusto? But no! It seems to many that men have a right to be naughty while women must be chaste and as pure as a white lily. They may not have said it, but they certainly implied it.

Nicolas Tse says the scandal involving his wife Cecilia Cheung has only brought them closer. [CFP]

One crucial character in this media brouhaha is Nicolas Tse, married two years earlier to Cecilia Cheung and with their son shortly before the incident. Tse is a big star in his own right. When the photos were uncovered, everyone was expecting him to break up with his wife, possibly with dramatic gestures like yelling at her, punching her in the face and calling her a "bitch".

Tse disappointed all the onlookers, saying the incident only served to bring him and his wife closer. An erstwhile teen idol, he has mellowed to the point of defying all Chinese stereotypes of a henpecked husband. (For all we know, the photos could have been taken long before his marriage to Cheung, though.)

Maybe it was a remnant of his defiance, a trademark of his rock'n'roll years. For more than a year now, pundits have been dropping him hints, such as "Nicolas Tse would not receive a single word of criticism if he divorced his wife." But he said he didn't even hate Edison Chen, thus depriving the gloating populace of their guilty pleasure.

Some may deem him "not man enough", but he did something not many men have the courage to do, ie, to help a family member overcome possibly the biggest obstacle in her life that he did not have a hand in creating.

Sometimes I have the impression that some of China's netizens have never been affected by the May 4th Movement. They could be living in a feudal era when women were forced to bind their feet and be obedient to their husbands. Something bad happens? Oh, it must be the woman's fault. When emperors kept a harem of thousands of young women, it was a manifestation of their virility. When Empress Wu Zetian kept a few gigolos, it was a sin that wiped out all her political achievements in the public eye.

Cecilia Cheung admitted in the interview that she had "made a mistake" with the photos. Couldn't the public forgive her more readily than her male partner in the moral offense? There are people who support her for speaking out, but more, or rather the majority, if you read Sina.com, have stigmatized her to the point they'll remind her son of "the shame brought by the mother".

I guess these people were craving, in the innermost recesses of the heart, that Tse would kick her out and she would jump into a river, baby in arm. Moral purists demand nothing less than such an act of melodrama.

And moral purists tend to be hypocrites. If you are moved by Edison Chen's contrition, shouldn't it be easier to take in the hushed yet emotional plea by Cecilia Cheung, someone who is taking care of a newborn baby? Of course, one has the right not to forgive any of them. At least that's integrity. But if you think Chen is so handsome and deserves a break but Cheung's beauty made her a demoralizing force, that is definitely a double standard.