Bale was in Beijing to promote his new state-backed movie, The Flowers of War and was trying to visit blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who has been living in isolation with his family since his release from jail last year.

In recent months, Chinese activists who have journeyed to Chen’s village in Shandong  have faced physical attack, had belongings stolen and been detained for days.

CNN footage –  the TV channel accompanied Bale – showed him asking to speak to Chen before guards shoved him and tried to  punch the  video camera he was carrying.

“What I really wanted to do was to meet the man, shake his hand and say what an inspiration he is,” Bale said.

 CNN said Bale had found out about Chen from news reports while filming the new movie, which China has submitted for the best foreign language film Oscar at the 2012 Academy Awards.

It is the most expensive Chinese movie ever made and was directed by Zhang Yimou.

The outspoken Chen has angered authorities by helping women who had suffered forced abortions and sterilisations.

He was jailed for four years for damaging property and “organising a mob to disturb traffic” – charges his supporters say were trumped up – and has been under house arrest since his release.

News of Bale’s fracas came as state news agency Xinhua announced that rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has been missing for almost three years, had been sent back to jail for three years for breaking his probation.

Friends and supporters have expressed grave concern about his safety, particularly given his graphic accounts of alleged torture by security officials.

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