When internationally-acclaimed movie star Gong Li applied for Singaporean citizenship in August 2008, she should have been better prepared for the furious backlash that followed. As news leaked that Gong, whose husband is Singaporean, was seeking to relinquish her Chinese nationality, ardent patriots took to the net to express their fury. Many accused Gong of being “unpatriotic,” with one concluding, “traitors who turn their back on the country should slink off to other countries and die!”
Gong’s application was one of the first to get China’s increasingly voluble netizens irate. The most recent to head for the exit is Zhou Xun, another Chinese movie star, who has incurred similar disdain by applying for Hong Kong citizenship. Xinhua reported that Zhou Xun, a native from Zhejiang and the main star in box office hits like Painted Skin, The Banquet and Perhaps Love, has lodged an application with Hong Kong’s Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, a system that was set up to attract mainland talents to live and work in Hong Kong. Chinese pianist Lang Lang was the first to be awarded Hong Kong residency in November 2006. Actress Zhang Ziyi and former Olympic gymnast Li Ning also became Hong Kong residents under the system, in spite of harsh criticism at home for their unpatriotic behaviour.
Zhou’s decision riled Chinese cyberspace patriots to distraction. One angry fan wrote on an internet forum on Sina.com, a popular Chinese portal: “I despise those ‘fake foreigners’ who make their fortunes in China but have their residences elsewhere! I will never watch any of Zhou’s movie again or buy any of the product she endorses!”
Why would Zhou risk the torrent of fury, like others before her? In a word, convenience. With the exception of a handful of Southeast Asian and African countries, Chinese passport holders need to apply for visas in advance to travel abroad. The process is often cumbersome and costly, and in the case of Japan and Taiwan, very tricky indeed. Hong Kong residents, on the other hand, can travel to over 80 countries visa-free.
Thankfully not everyone is so critical. In an internet poll published by Sina.com, 35% says Zhou giving up Chinese citizenship is not a big deal; 24% reckons that it is understandable from a career perspective. Amid the outrage flooding internet chatrooms, one fan from Huangzhou said, “If I was rich and famous, I’d be the first to give up my Chinese passport!” And interestingly enough, there were many that concurred.
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