“Thank you, Hong Kong, incredible city, China, my country, proud to be Chinese,” said Jackie Chan at the Governors Awards. A past incident flitted through his mind as he stepped down from the podium.
Many years before, when Chan was rising to fame in Hong Kong cinema but was yet to play a role in an English-language film, he received an interview invitation from a foreign television program. However, when Chan arrived at the studio, after a six-hour flight, he was ignored by the program anchor as he could not speak English.
“I took a twelve-hour round trip, but they sent me packing just because I couldn’t speak English. I got really mad,” Chan told our reporter.
Compared to many other celebrities from the Greater China region, Jackie Chan is particularly sensitive about nation and patriotism.
After emigrating to Hong Kong in the 1950s as refugees, Chan’s parents worked for the French consul’s family. Charles worked as a cook and Lee-lee a housekeeper. Chan spent his childhood years in the grounds of the consul’s residence in the Victoria Peak district, a wealthy neighborhood in Hong Kong.
“It was very lucky for my parents to find jobs like that, in that they were refugees. Though my family was very poor, I was born and lived in a grand mansion on the Peak. The consul’s family lived in the front house, gorgeous and spacious, but my family hid in the backyard, cramped and shabby. […] Two families lived in one place. They treated us very well, but we were still in two entirely different worlds,” Chan told NewsChina.
As a boy, Chan had a clear sense of discrimination in the “two worlds” hierarchy. As he recollected, at that time, the British enjoyed supreme status in Hong Kong. “I would naturally give way and walk along the edge of the road when I saw a foreigner coming. They took the elevator and I could only take the stairs. If I got into a fight with a foreign kid, my dad would definitely beat me and drag me to apologize to the foreigner,” said Chan.
Such feelings of being discriminated against continued in his early days in Hollywood in the 1980s and 1990s. “At that time, Hollywood did not approve of my design of stunts at all. No one listened to my voice. Every opinion I put forward would be rejected. I tried my best to perform, but they didn’t like it. So my shots were always being cut, cut, cut,” Chan told The Paper after wining the Oscar.
“They always told me ‘China is not our market. No need to mind China.’ But today Hollywood values both my opinions and the Chinese market. They will ask me what Chinese like to watch. […] I am proud that my country is becoming stronger. The time when nobody listened to a Chinese is gone,” Chan added.
Chan had no chance to get a formal education. What he learned about culture he gleaned from the stories in the ancient operas that he read during his Peking Opera school days. The traditional, even old-fashioned values, discipline, loyalty, heroism and patriotism are deeply etched in his mind and formed the principles he still sticks to.
Apart from being an actor, Chan is also a prolific singer. He has recorded over 20 albums, with over 100 tracks. In 2009, one of his favorite songs “Country” (“Guojia”) was created as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Over the past decade, Chan has performed at several national celebrations where he always sings patriotic songs towards the end of the event.
“Each family is a tiny country/Numerous families make up China,” runs a lyric from “Country” that Chan likes in particular and which, he thinks, expresses his sentiments towards home and country. (He likes the song so much that he could not help singing it during the interview.)
“I’ve been through extremely complicated times and environments, too complicated to mention. I grew up in Hong Kong and matured around the globe, and I always think of doing something for my country. It’s not just empty words,” Chan told NewsChina.