Zhang's choice of reading material may reveal more than her attire

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 January, 2009, 12:00am

You are what you read.

Most people have been fixated on the semi-nude pictures of megawatt movie star Zhang Ziyi frolicking at an exclusive Caribbean beach resort with Israeli billionaire fiance Vivi Nevo. Mainland blogs, typically xenophobic and sexist, have been denouncing her with the usual unprintable epithets. Perhaps 'traitorous' was the most polite word used. Does it mean she is betraying her chastity pledged to the fatherland?

However, what I find most revealing is not her body parts, but what she was reading on the beach. It was no airport potboiler, but a serious biographical study of Wu Zetian, the great Tang dynasty empress, and her grandson Emperor Tang Xuanzong. One photograph showed Zhang discussing the book with her beau.

Empress Wu started as a concubine, then ruthlessly manoeuvred her way to the top, thus starting one of ancient China's most glorious, peaceful and prosperous eras.

Emperor Tang, at least until his last years, managed to continue the period of prosperity and liberality - which did not bind women's feet and allowed many to succeed in high places. His reign expanded contacts between the Chinese empire and other countries.

Diplomatic envoys, merchants, scholars, artists, scientists, monks and priests from all over the world were welcome in China.

Now, consider Zhang's career. At every step, beginning with legendary Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who made her an instant international megastar with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, she managed to find the right guy to help her onto the next stage. Those who were distracting her from the path to glory, like tycoon Timothy Fok Tsun-ting's second son, Eric Fok Kai-shan, were unceremoniously discarded. For her now, greater China is small fry. The world is her oyster. With Nevo, she now gravitates to such exalted circles that include former Time Warner chief Richard Parsons, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his wife Wendy Deng, another dragon lady.

Personally, I wouldn't say a bad word about her. Before long, she may be taking up residency in Zhongnanhai, the leaders' residential compound in Beijing.

Remember what Empress Wu, who was also an exquisite beauty while a concubine, did to her enemies. And that Jiang Qing , the Great Helmsman's wife and leader of the Gang of Four, was an actress.