In his lifetime he was “Wacko Jacko,” but for millions of Chinese Michael Jackson is still the beloved “King of Pop”.
No surprise then that tickets to the Beijing premiere of the Michael Jackson memorial offering This Is It quickly sold out. The documentary showed rehearsal footage for the London concert Jackson was preparing at the time of his death in June.
“This has never happened before,” says a spokesman for the cinema that held the premiere. “The record for the best premiere used to be Transformers, but the Michael Jackson documentary is even better than that.”
According to the China Daily, thousands of Jackson fans, dressed in trademark black and white, shrieked as lookalikes danced in unison to hits like Thriller and Beat It outside the Beijing cinema where the film was screened at midnight last Tuesday.
Long after the film had ended, people remained in their seats, some sobbing quietly.
The fact that This Is It got a screening reflects Jackson’s enduring stature in China. Chinese cinemas are only allowed to show a maximum of 20 overseas films a year, and the Jackson documentary snapped up the last spot for 2009. The film is also showing in more theatres than any previous foreign movie, says Sony Pictures.
Jackson’s popularity is all the more incredible when you consider that he never performed in China and only visited the country once (in 1987).
Still, there is a nostalgia factor behind the Jackson phenomenon, as he rose to stardom around the same time that the country was getting re-acquainted with the world outside. His most popular album, Thriller, was released just as China opened its doors in the early 1980s, giving the nation its first taste of Western pop music.
“My father loves pop music and we always had Michael Jackson albums at home. I love them all,“ Huang Shan, a twenty-something Jackson fan, told China Internet Information Centre.
Even when the embattled star successfully fought child-molestation charges in 2005, his Chinese fans remained steadfastly loyal.
“Like many of his ardent fans, I believed every word he said – that he was completely innocent, and that he was not weird, just… different,” columnist Xiao Hao wrote in the China Daily.
So what is it about Jackson that inspired such affection? Apparently, Chinese adoration stems from their perception that Jackson genuinely wanted to solve the world’s problems. “Many people grew up with his music and consider him to be a great person,” explains Deng Ying, a Law Student at Peking University. “He also devoted his time to humanitarian efforts.”
But can Jackson (posthumously) topple the mighty Transformers 2? The Michael Bay movie this year broke records at the Chinese box office. His fans will hope it can be moonwalked off the top spot by Jackson, making Chinese cinema history.
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