On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Nothing but simplistic movie fantasy

In Red Corner,  Richard Gere plays an entertainment lawyer who is thrown into solitary confinement and denied his  legal rights after being set up.  In Seven Years in Tibet, Brad Pitt  plays a German mountaineer who  gets close to the Dalai Lama during  his sojourn in Lhasa.

A third movie, Kundun, from  Walt Disney, is about the flight of  the Dalai Lama to India after the  Chinese occupation of Tibet.

All these movies have a powerful  message  China is evil, its human  rights record stinks and it deserves  a good wallop.  Whatever the merits of the case,  film-makers have reduced the political complexities surrounding  these sensitive issues into a few  hours of simplistic movie fantasy.  The three movies were released  when President Jiang Zemin visited Washington for his summit with  President Bill Clinton recently.  At the same time, Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng was glorified  and accorded the questionable title  of the Father of Chinese Democracy.

Although considered more of an  embarrassment than a hero in China, Newsweek named him Asian of  the Year in its latest edition.  For the majority of Americans  who have never set foot in China,  such images created by the media  can only be the truth.

The American perception of democracy has always been the holding of elections, the right of an individual and the freedom of expression  civil liberties being the sum  total of human rights.

Never mind if Russia has been  reduced to a beggar state today so  long as the people can choose their  leaders. From the long bread queue  of yesterday, Russians have found  that there is nothing to line up for  today.

With the strong but subtle American propaganda at work, it is almost impossible to impress upon  ordinary Americans that there has  been substantial improvements in  different categories of human  rights in many parts of Asia, especially China.  Human rights is not just about  civil and political rights. There has  to be a broader and more comprehensive view which includes economic, social and cultural rights.  It is no good telling a nation of 1.2  billion people that civil rights, in a  strictly Western sense, comes first  before their next meal. It can't be  denied that China's ability to feed  its people is an achievement.

It is no good being the world's  biggest democracy when the government continuously collapses,  wrecking political and socio-economic stability.

China certainly doesn't deserve  the bashing from Tinseltown. Over  the last 10 years, it has opened up  tremendously, allowing its people  to travel overseas in large numbers.

It has even tolerated religious  practices, which would have been  unthinkable during the Mao era.  Capitalism has almost become a  way of life in China and the pursuit  of private wealth is encouraged.  The continued expansion of its  economy and the creation of a  broader middle class will gradually  lead to more demands for certain  civil and political rights.

They will begin to appreciate the  importance of freedom of expression, an independent media and  public accountability.  Many Americans, including those  with good intentions, fail to appreciate the fact that human rights is  linked to economic rights.  China's achievements, unfortunately, have been overlooked by  Hollywood movie-makers who only  see a celluloid and imaginative  view of its politics.  Governing the world's biggest  country is no easy job  one which  James Bond, Indiana Jones and Superman put together will not be  able to handle.