Bale, who had been in China promoting a new film, "The Flowers of War," didn’t succeed in meeting with the activist, Chen Guangcheng. Instead, he was manhandled by burly security officials who have kept tiny Dongshigu village in eastern Shandong province off limits to journalists, diplomats, and activists who have similarly been thwarted in their efforts to see Chen.
The incident on Thursday won Bale kudos from human rights activists-- as well as some ribbing from fans in China.
"Batman couldn't do it alone. But if he takes Spiderman, Superman, the Hulk, Wolverine, Captain America and Harry Potter, they can get it done right?" wrote one Chinese commentator on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-type service.
The entire incident was captured by CNN, which sent a crew to accompany Bale. After driving eight hours to the village, Bale was met by a number of unidentified men dressed in fur hats and olive-green winter coats who pushed him and tried to grab his camera.
"Why can I not go visit this man?’’ asked the British actor, whose words were captured by microphone.
Bale and the crew were hustled into their car and followed as they drove out of town for about 40 minutes.
"I’m not being brave doing this," Bale told the TV crew in the car. "The local people who are standing up to authorities and insisting on going to visit Chen and his family are getting beaten up for it and being detained for it. …I want to support what they’re doing." He said he’d only wanted to tell Chen "what an inspiration he is."
A self-taught lawyer, Chen was prosecuted for battling the techniques that local officials used to enforce China’s one-child policy, including forced abortions and sterilizations. Chen was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for "damaging property and organizing a mob to disturb traffic," charges that he denied.
Although Chen was ostensibly released September of last year, he has since been kept under unofficial house arrest along with his wife, mother and 6-year-old daughter. Some human rights advocates allege that he has suffered beatings at the hands of public security officers, who have also boarded up his windows.
Hundreds of Chinese dissidents and human rights activists have attempted to visit Chen since he was released from prison, though none has managed to meet with him. Over the past few months, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke have openly called for Chen’s release. China has given no official reply.
-- Barbara Demick
Photo: Actor Christian Bale led by security guards upon arrival on the red carpet this week for an event promoting his new film "The Flowers of War" in Beijing. Credit: Andy Wong / AP