(Photo: Global Times)
Chinese fans of Michael Jackson hold banners and posters in support of their idol in Shanghai on February 16. Photo: Courtesy of Zhang Rui
The word "angry" doesn't come close to describing Zhang Rui's feelings about the recent HBO documentary Leaving Neverland, which featured accounts from two men accusing late American pop sensation Michael Jackson of molesting them when they were young.
"They are two liars who are now flinging caution to the wind and aim to get money through blackmail… The documentary, which is full of one-sided accusations, mixes truth and lies together. It uses four hours to brainwash audiences and tries hard to prove that Jackson is a monster who mistreated children," Zhang said.
Zhang, a 37-yeal-old journalist and cultural critic, is also known as Keen among Jackson's fans in China.
He is one of the core members behind the country's biggest Michael Jackson fan website, MJJCN.com.
The controversy around Jackson has refused to die down even after his death in 2009. Fifteen years after Jackson was found not guilty in a child molestation and conspiracy trial in 2005, he is once again facing the same accusations. And the controversy continues to sweep the whole world, including China.
A search using the key words "Michael Jackson" in Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media, results in thousands of posts - from the latest news that the Children's Museum of Indianapolis reportedly removed three Jackson items from its exhibits to Jackson's fans suing the alleged victims in France for sullying his memory.
Of the various activities organized by Jackson's fans worldwide, Chinese fans have attracted global attention in their vehemence in defending the star.
Supporting their hero
In the documentary released by HBO, Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege they experienced years of sexual abuse by Jackson in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which they describe in graphic detail, CNN reported on March 5.
After four hours of brainwashing by the documentary, ordinary people or fans who had been influenced by the previous children molestation accusation toward Jackson would sympathize with the "so-called victims," according to Zhang, noting that this is the reason why the HBO documentary has so much destructive force.
Jackson's family slammed the film after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in February, calling it a "public lynching" and Jackson's accusers "admitted liars," in reference to sworn statements made by both Safechuck and Robson while Jackson was alive that he did not molest them, according to a CNN report.
From February 14, Jackson's fans in China began posting pictures of themselves on domestic and overseas social media standing in landmarks of 22 cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xiamen and Urumqi, holding banners and pictures of Jackson.
The words on some of the banners in the pictures that spread on social media read, "Don't believe lies, Michael Jackson is innocent," "Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons," "Please let him rest in peace," and "Boycott HBO."
The idea of holding such activities was first promoted by MJJCN.com.
"There were Jackson fans who staged a protest when the documentary was released in at the Sundance Film Festival, but they failed to attract the public's attention. We thought that it was time for us to stand up for Jackson since he could no longer respond to the accusations himself, but we can," Zhang said, noting that more than 1,000 fans joined the activities promoted by the website.
The Chinese fans did draw a negative reaction when pictures emerged of them sticking posters of Jackson on the Great Wall in Beijing, sparking criticism that they were "destroying cultural relics." The website later released a notice saying that some fans had put up the posters on the spur of the moment, insisting that no damage was done and no garbage was left at the Great Wall.
That incident, together with the Chinese fans' passion for defending Jackson, caught overseas attention as well as recognition from Jackson's friends and family.
Thomas Mesereau, Jackson's criminal defense lawyer in his 2005 child molestation and conspiracy trial, wrote an email to Zhang.
"Congratulations to you and The Michael Jackson Chinese Fan Club for a wonderful effort. You are doing such important and valuable work protecting Michael Jackson's reputation," read the email.
Jermaine Jackson, one of Jackson's brothers, also wrote in an email to Jackson's fans in China, "We really appreciate your ongoing support and your efforts in getting out to protest. For Michael, that was very strong and united and shows that you are truly loyal to him."
However, it looks like the current debate over Jackson has yet to go in the direction that his supporters want to see.
French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton is pulling items from its fall menswear collection that drew inspiration from Michael Jackson, NBC reported on March 16.
The Nova Entertainment Company became the first Australian company to take action. It joins at least three radio stations in Canada, one in the Netherlands as well as New Zealand's public broadcaster RNZ that have stopped playing Jackson's music, the Guardian reported on March 7.
But nothing will change Zhang's feelings toward Jackson, whom he has followed for more than 20 years.
"I began to follow Jackson while in middle school. There was no internet in our life at that time but only a few cassette tapes of Jackson's songs that had been brought into China. Jackson's song Heal the World gripped my heart the first time I listened to it," Zhang said.
The more Zhang listened to the song, the more passionate he became about Jackson. He tried to find as much information about him as he could and even began learning his unique dancing style. "I finally become a die-hard Jackson fan," Zhang said.
In 2000, Zhang and a few friends, who were also die-hard fans of Jackson, established China's biggest Michael Jackson fan website, MJJCN.com. When Jackson was accused of molesting children in 2003, the website released thousands of materials translated from English for Chinese fans.
"Jackson knew about our website and wrote a letter to us. He gave us a medal for our efforts and I keep the certificate with his signature in a special place at my house," Zhang said.
"Unlike other fans in the world who had attended Jackson's concerts in their own countries, many of the Chinese fans have no chance to even meet Jackson. But we are touched by his music and his talents, which have transcended space and time,"Zhang said.
"Michael Jackson gained global influence not only because he brought popular music to a peak through his own efforts, but also because he remained a fashion leader for more than 40 years," Luo Luo, a senior critic on European and American movie and pop culture, told the Global Times.
She noted that "Jackson's talent and glamour as well as his efforts to speak out for vulnerable groups helped him gain fame in the international community."
In recent years, with Chinese people's growing consumer power and the fast development of the internet, Chinese fans of overseas celebrities have been able to get the latest news on their stars at any time and place. The amount of money they spend, as well as their influence, have grabbed international attention.
Many of Jackson's followers in China were born in the 1980s, and their financial situation allows them to support their idol in whatever way they want, which is also one reason for the massive influence Chinese Jackson fans currently have, Luo said.
"Expressing their anger over the HBO documentary and putting up posters to support Jackson in other countries through crowd-funding are common ways for fans to chase their stars in China," Luo said.
For Zhang, running the website or organizing activities is not simply about chasing stars, as is the case for some young people.
"Jackson has left us for 10 years but his soul stands with us through his music and artistic career. We will always trust, cherish and protect him," Zhang said.
"We did not come to him at his peak, and we will not abandon him in this low ebb."