BEIJING Actor Christian Bale was roughed up by Chinese security guards as he attempted to visit a blind legal activist whose detention has sparked a domestic and international outcry, CNN reported on Friday.
Bale, who plays crime-fighting superhero Batman, and a camera crew from CNN were jostled by men in plainclothes in Dongshigu village in eastern Shandong province, where activist Chen Guangcheng has been under house arrest for 15 months, according to a video released by CNN on its website.
"Why can I not visit this man?" Bale asked several security officers, while they were pushing him.
"You know, I'm not being brave doing this," Bale told CNN. "The local people who are standing up to the authorities and insisting on going to visit Chen and his family and getting beaten up for it, and my understanding, getting detained for it and everything. I want to support what they are doing."
CNN said the guards shadowed its van for more than half an hour.
The fate of Chen, a self-schooled advocate who has campaigned against forced abortions, has become a test of wills, pitting the Communist Party's crackdown on dissent against activists championing his cause and that of artist Ai Weiwei.
In recent months, dozens of supporters have been blocked from visiting Chen. Many were beaten by men in plain clothes.
CNN said that Bale, in China for the premiere of his latest film "The Flowers of War" made by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, approached the news network to try to meet Chen.
They took an eight-hour car journey to Chen's village from Beijing.
"This doesn't come naturally to me," Bale said to CNN. "But this was just a situation, I said, I can't look the other way."
China's Foreign Ministry did not respond to a faxed inquiry about Bale's visit.
It was not clear if the incident would have any impact on "The Flowers of War," which is China's Oscar entry for next year, or the release of Bale's new Batman film in the country.
China's film regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
In a later interview with CNN, Bale said: "It's amazing that a superpower like China is actually terrified of this man and shows such an intrinsic weakness within the fabric of the country."
"This kind of treatment ... represents the power structure and their attitudes towards their own citizens, which is disgusting," he said.
Internet users took to the Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo to applaud Bale's visit to see the "blind man." Authorities have blocked searches for "Chen Guangcheng."
"Mr Bale, I admire your courage and heart," said a microblogger called "Chen Xiaoying wants to support."
"But next time if you want to save a person, remember to wear your Batman suit. The Chinese official media will not report this, it's up to CNN to broadcast it."
Chen angered Shandong officials in 2005 by exposing a program of forced abortions as part of China's one-child policy. He was formally released in September 2010 after four years in jail on a charge of "blocking traffic."
"What I really wanted to do is to shake the man's hand and say 'thank you', and tell him what an inspiration he is," Bale told CNN.
Other Hollywood stars have also been active in criticizing Chinese policies. Actor Richard Gere is a strong supporter of Tibet, for example.
China does not take kindly to foreign criticism of its rights record. In 2008, Icelandic singer Bjork shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" at a Shanghai concert after performing her song "Declare Independence," angering the government and local fans alike.
As a young boy, Bale starred in "Empire of the Sun," a film set in World War Two about a British family in Shanghai.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel)