Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Depraved behaviour is as prevalent in East as West

In wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, some may think China has the moral high ground; the reality is that it does not

A day after publishing an op-ed claiming China doesn’t have the kind of sexual harassment problem that plagues American society, China Daily promptly removed it.

No wonder. The article was rightly torn apart not only by foreign readers, but by domestic ones as well. Its premise was beyond absurd. The editors at least quickly saw the error of their way.

What prompted the author, billed as a Canadian-Egyptian educator, to produce this unfortunate piece was the fallout in Hollywood from the Harvey Weinstein case, in which many prominent actresses have alleged harassment and even rape over many years at the hands of the movie mogul.

Everyone in Hong Kong and the mainland knows the Chinese entertainment business can’t be any kinder or gentler to women – or men, for that matter. If anything, it’s probably much worse. Actors and actresses are regularly referred to by people as “chickens” and “ducks”, Cantonese euphemisms for prostitutes and gigolos. Film bosses take along actresses to business meetings and meals to “entertain” clients. Cosmetic surgery is sometimes written into their contracts.

Exploiting one’s body, willingly or not, to advance one’s career is probably as old as the entertainment industry itself. The difference between the Chinese and American industries is that in the former, actors are paid a lot less, enjoy much less prestige and power, and don’t have the same channels to seek redress and justice when something awful really happens to them.

Over the years, several well-known singers and actresses in Hong Kong have alleged sexual abuse, but nothing ever came of their claims. In one case, several magazines even published nude photos of a well-known actress allegedly being kidnapped and sexually assaulted.

The deleted op-ed follows the pattern of thinking of some misguided mainland nationalists or ideologues. Such people had argued in the past that China didn’t have serial mass murders, prostitution, drug abuse, alcoholism and other Western social ills as they did in decadent America. But of course, China does. It’s just that they have been ignored, suppressed or at least not advertised.

It’s probably a good sign that they are now being discussed and acknowledged more openly in social and even mainstream media. That’s why the China Daily article stuck out like a sore thumb.

Optimists and idealists believe some human values are universal. Pessimists and cynics may believe antisocial and criminal behaviours are, empirically, the real universals.