Posted on July 23, 2019

Why China Is Angry About Marvel’s First Asian Superhero Movie

Jane LiJuly, Quartzy, July 23, 2019

China, one of Marvel Studios’ largest overseas markets, does not appear to be happy about the comic-book empire’s first Asian superhero production.

Weibo users responded to Marvel’s San Diego Comic-Con announcement that it had cast Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, the kung-fu master hero of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, by reminding one another of the racist origins of the character’s father.

“The plotline of Shang-Chi is about belittling Chinese people while praising Americans,” wrote one user (links in Chinese) on the social media platform. Another called it “horrible” that the movie will include “a symbol of foreign discrimination against Asians.”

{snip} In the movie version, Hong Kong actor Tony Leung will play a villain known as the Mandarin. Fans are speculating that the film’s antagonist is likely a substitute for Fu Manchu—long seen as a “yellow peril” symbol historically linked to racist beliefs of Asian peoples and cultures being a threat to the West.

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“The point here is not whether the Mandarin is exactly Fu Manchu or just his replacement, the point is both characters emerged because of the discrimination and stereotyping of the Chinese population in the previous years. Back in the 1900s us Chinese were too weak to fight back characters like this, but now, we have become strong and have the ability and obligation to say no to such figures,” wrote (in Chinese) a Weibo user with handle “Souththth.”

Another comment upvoted over 10,000 times accused Marvel of casting a Chinese actor (Leung) as the villain, while an ethnically Chinese actor (Liu) with Western heritage gets to play the hero: “If you’d like to make money in China, better shape your Chinese characters more wisely.” {snip}

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Yet despite some huge successes, studios still find themselves struggling to appeal to audiences in different countries with movies released worldwide. The American romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, as a model for inclusiveness and representation of Asian Americans, was widely viewed in China and elsewhere in Asia as promoting outdated caricatures. It was a flop in China.