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The Mao Row: Zhang Tielin, Citizenship, and Patriotic Movie Making

It’s amazing what people will choose to care about.  As yet another CCP film/wankfest (“Red Army Expedition East”) commences production, the actor selected to play the role of heroic, young-ish Mao is causing a bit of a stir.

Zhang Tielin, the 53-year old actor perhaps most well-known for playing various and sundry Manchus, has been deemed insufficiently Chinese to play the role of the Great Helmsman-in-training because Zhang is a British citizen. Oh, the horrors.

As usual, the nationalist nitwit brigade has been in a tizzy over this scandalous situation.

Peter Foster reports on the uproar in the Telegraph:

“It’s an insult to Chairman Mao. I strongly protest and suggest that the relevant State Administration authorities intervene,” said one contributor to, the news website of China’s Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.

“It is not enough to resemble Mao in outlook and temperament,” said another on a site called the Voice of China, “the actor must be politically qualified in terms of identity. Otherwise it will be a blasphemy to Mao and will hurt the feelings of billions of Chinese.”

Leaving aside that there are only one billion (and change) of Chinese, does it really matter?

After all, looking at the list of actors who have portrayed American revolutionary (and other) leaders is like dropping into a pub near Piccadilly.

George Washington, father of the country and implacable foe of the British Empire, has been played by West Midlands-born actor Frank Windsor. When Propagandist and diplomat Benjamin Franklin famously said “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately,” he wasn’t worried about the Swiss. And yet in the recent HBO miniseries John Adams, Franklin’s character was reduced to a foppish womanizer by the likes of Tom Wilkinson.  In the same series, Thomas Jefferson, our third president and the principal architect of the document severing our connection with King and Country forever, was played by…yep, you guessed it…another Brit, Stephen Dillane.  Jefferson has even on occasion been portrayed  by a Kiwi.

Now at least the filmmakers could make the claim that Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin were all born in a British colony and so technically British…but here’s a trivia question: Name the first President who was born an American citizen AND who was at the same time the first president not of British descent?

That’s right, Martin Van Buren, born in 1782 and who grew up speaking Dutch at home.  Does that matter to Hollywood? Of course not, if the casting of Nigel Hawthorne (born in England, raised in South Africa) in Amistad is any indication.

Even our lesser presidents get the foreign treatment. Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins has made a specialty of playing bad presidents, first as John Quincy Adams (also in Amistad) and, perhaps more notoriously, as the title character in Oliver Stone’s Nixon.

Hell, Randy Quaid won a Golden Globe playing a future president and that dude just filed for asylum in Canada.

So once again, my message to Chinese nationalists…LIGHTEN UP. It’s not so bad. A disturbing percentage of my fellow Americans think our current and ACTUAL president is secretly a Kenyan mole and, besides…it’s not like Mao is being played by a Japanese actor,  right?

2 Comments on The Mao Row: Zhang Tielin, Citizenship, and Patriotic Movie Making

  1. yep, another one-handed manual from the ccp

  2. i think “politically qualified in terms of identity” could be just Mao Xinyu

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