His movies have flopped time and again and his dad, Jackie Chan, has reportedly disinherited him. But, thanks to Chinese police, actor-singer-playboy Jaycee Chan can at least say he’s been cast in a major new role that’s turning heads: bad example.
Busted by Beijing cops on drug charges along with a Taiwanese actor pal, Chan’s mug was plastered all over Chinese media Tuesday. State-run television news aired an extensive report on the duo, including footage of police searching Chan’s home.
“What is this?” an investigator repeatedly asked, pulling small plastic bags and other containers out of a filing cabinet. “Marijuana,” Chan, 31, answered meekly.
His friend, Kai Ko, meanwhile, turned on the waterworks. “I’ve set a very bad example,” the 23-year-old performer said in a tearful confession, recorded in police custody while dressed in a blue-and-yellow detention center shirt.
Chan and Ko are among at least nine celebrities named and shamed in a major drug crackdown that’s been sweeping the Chinese capital in recent months, netting users of pot, methamphetamine, ketamine and other illicit substances. Thousands of ordinary citizens have also been taken into custody; police said between late April and early August they had arrested 3,400 alleged drug users, up 77% from a year earlier.
Some of the police tactics have raised eyebrows. In one much-buzzed about incident this month, officers — apparently acting on a tip — swarmed a bar called 2 Kolegas, barred the doors and ordered all patrons to provide urine samples under the watchful eyes of officers.
An Australian journalist who happened to be in the establishment reported that at least nine patrons, including foreigners, were taken into custody after the instant tests turned up positive results — although no one appeared to have actually been caught buying, selling or carrying illegal substances. In China, drug consumption is an offense that can land one in short-term detention.
Exactly what’s prompted the crackdown isn’t clear. In June, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech timed to the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, calling for “forceful measures” to wipe out drugs. But even before then, Beijing police were announcing busts, including one in May that netted more than two-dozen foreigners.
“It’s hard to know why the government does what they do,” said Gernot Klantschnig, a professor at the University of Nottingham’s campus in Ningbo who has studied aspects of drug-control policy in China.
“In general, in recent years, there has been a trend toward somewhat less punitive” policies toward drug users, he said, and a greater emphasis on “harm-reduction” efforts, including methadone clinics and needle-exchange programs.
In the last decade or so, the number of drug users registered and tracked by authorities in China has more than doubled, from about 1 million to over 2 million, according to the Office of the National Narcotics Control Commission. Heroin remains the drug of choice among this population. But methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy, are increasing in popularity, particularly among young urbanites with disposable incomes.
Although those statistics suggest China’s drug-abuse rate is substantially lower than many other countries, Klantschnig cautioned that such data may significantly understate the size of the country’s drug market.
Casual users who do not come into contact with law enforcement or other government agencies may not be included in such reports, and unlike in countries such as the U.S., there are no good household surveys on drug issues, he said.
Wu Liwei, a Beijing attorney who represented a reality show singing star, Li Daimo, in a drug case this past spring, said he believes usage rates have not risen markedly in recent years, although methamphetamine cases are up somewhat.
“The crackdown is creating a misimpression among the public that drug use is way up, and celebrities are the main group of offenders,” he said.
Nevertheless, Wu said he’s not opposed to the government making an example out of famous people who violate the law.
“These cases can have a strong impression on fans and the public," he said. "It can function as a way to educate people.”
In entertainment circles, many say this summer’s crackdown is reminiscent of a similar campaign about a decade ago. Some are concerned that authorities this time may take additional punitive measures against celebrities – such as instructing censors who control the release of films, TV shows and music to withhold approval from anyone convicted of drug offenses.
The state-run New China News Agency reported recently that a group called the Beijing Trade Assn. for Performances had organized 42 entertainment agencies in the city to sign a pledge promising not to hire actors with a history of drug use.
But attempts by numerous reporters, including The Times, to contact the association to verify the report proved fruitless. Reached by the Xiaoxiang Morning News last week, Yang Hongbin, the group’s general secretary, clarified that the pledge was a suggestion rather than a requirement.