China's state media have criticized celebrities for attending an event in northeastern India with members of the Tibetan government-in-exile, adding to Chinese authorities' warnings that actors and singers must "serve the people and socialism."
An article on China Tibet Online this week that was widely carried by other state media said there was nothing wrong with Beijing singer and actress Faye Wong, Hong Kong actor Tony Leung and Beijing actor Hu Jun worshipping Buddhism and attending religious activities.
But it said that "meddling with the `Tibetan-independence' clique leaders has gone far beyond the realm of `freedom of religious belief."'
The phrase is a reference to the government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhists' spiritual leader whom Beijing accuses of campaigning to split Tibet from the rest of China.
The celebrities were attending an event on Feb. 14 commemorating the 92nd anniversary of the birth of the late predecessor of the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Tibetan Buddhism's third-highest spiritual leader, said the Karmapa's office.
Karma Namgyal, secretary of the Karmapa's office, said the presence of the three along with one of the ministers of the Central Tibetan Administration and speaker of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile was "coincidental."
He said the celebrities were in Bodh Gaya, a temple-dotted town where tradition has it that the Buddha reached enlightenment, to attend an annual weeklong prayer festival for world peace. They arrived a few days early, so attended the commemoration event as well, sitting on the side with all the laypeople, said Karma Namgyal.
Jamphel Shonu, a press officer for the self-claimed government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, said the event was "purely religious" and had "nothing to do with politics or the Central Tibetan Administration."
The state media commentary Wednesday said it would be "a pity if they lose their good reputations earned by hard work over so many years" by getting acquainted with people "on the wrong side of the state's major principle of right and wrong."
Representatives of Hu, Leung and Wong, also known as Wang Fei, did not respond to requests for comment.
Hu Jun said on his Twitter-like Sina Weibo account Thursday that he had gone to India to attend a prayer meeting with his family. "I was totally unaware of the presence of the so-called head of a separatist group as mentioned in some reports. I do not know any separatist and I solemnly declare that, as a Chinese, I oppose any words and acts that divide the country!!!"
Western movie stars, directors and musicians have fallen afoul of Chinese authorities over the years for perceived pro-Tibetan activism or remarks. Last year, performances in China by U.S. bands Bon Jovi and Maroon 5 were canceled, reportedly because they used a picture of the Dalai Lama in a previous concert or tweeted that they had met him.
In a speech made public in October, President Xi Jinping warned Chinese celebrities against pursuing commercial success rather than work that is "morally inspiring ... to serve the people and socialism." After that, dozens of official media and entertainment organizations signed a pledge to uphold self-discipline and professional ethics, which included supporting the leadership of the Communist Party.