FILM

Still #BoycottMulan? Liu Yifei Might Be a Victim of Forced Propaganda by the Chinese Government

China might be forcing stars like Mulan's Liu Yifei to spread anti-protester propaganda.

Mulan's official trailer dropped. Meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters persist in their fight for freedom in the face of violence from Hong Kong police.

Remember the controversy surrounding actress Liu Yifei (a.k.a. Crystal Liu), star of Disney's upcoming live-action Mulan, when she posted anti-protester sentiment on social media? While anger at the star's anti-democracy stance might seem natural, it's very possible that Liu is also a victim of the Chinese government.

liu yifei weibo

In August, Liu shared an image on Weibo (China's Twitter-like platform––Twitter is blocked in China) that translates to "I support Hong Kong's police, you can beat me up now." These are words of Fu Guohao, a mainland Chinese journalist who was roughed up by protestors after being caught taking close-up pictures of them at the Hong Kong airport and refusing to show his press credentials (the details here are scant as much of the information available is Chinese propaganda). Upon returning to China, he has been deemed a hero, and his words have become a rallying cry against pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters.

Liu's post, which was originally printed in China's state-backed People's Daily, concluded: "What a shame for Hong Kong." Liu added the hashtag "IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice" alongside a heart emoji and a bicep flex.

The backlash against Liu was immediate, with #BoycottMulan trending in both Hong Kong and the US on Twitter. She's been globally criticized for supporting a police force that is currently being accused of human rights violations against protesters by the UN.

"Disney's Mulan actress, Liu Yifei, supports police brutality and oppression in Hong Kong. Liu is a naturalized American citizen. it must be nice. meanwhile she pisses on people fighting for democracy," wrote Twitter user Sean Norton.

But while Liu's post certainly is not a good look for a Western movie star, disturbing evidence suggests that her sentiments might not be entirely her own.

In fact, around the same time, a ton of other Chinese celebrities shared roughly the same sentiment, with startling uniformity: the same "What a shame for Hong Kong" picture (or, alternatively, the Chinese Five-starred Red Flag), the same "IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice" hashtag, and very little else.

chinese celebrity propaganda pds.joins.com

Some internationally known Chinese celebrities, like singer Lay Zhang, posted the same thing on Twitter:

What's stranger is that none of these celebrities seem particularly well-known for their political activism.

Then, in another instance, many other accounts shared the same exact message as China Central Television: "Hong Kong is part of China forever," followed by the Chinese Flag emoji.

Isn't it strange to see so many influential Chinese social media accounts essentially copying and pasting the same messages in coordination? Moreover, the comment sections for all of these posts (including Lay Zhang's tweet) are full of people supporting mainland China and the Hong Kong police against pro-democracy protesters. This anti-democracy sentiment seems especially weird on Twitter, considering, again, most of the Chinese people who hold these sentiments wouldn't typically have access to the platform.

This isn't to say that Liu Yifei doesn't actually support the Hong Kong police, nor mainland China's claim to ownership of Hong Kong. She very well might. But the possibility also exists that the Chinese government is forcibly using influential Chinese celebrities as mouthpieces for political purposes.

This is not unprecedented in China. There, celebrities' careers are explicitly tied to whether or not they hold favor with the ruling party. This was proven when they "disappeared" their most famous and successful actress, Fan Bingbing, over supposed tax evasion charges. Some, however, suspect her disappearance had everything to do with her growing international influence. She quietly returned months later, oddly sharing a pro-China Communist Youth League post in response to a director who supported Taiwan's autonomy.

"China cannot miss out on any inch," shared Fan.

fan bingbing propaganda

Moreover, even a naturalized American citizen like Liu isn't necessarily safe. The Chinese government has a tendency to use family members still living in mainland China to silence and control expats who might prove problematic. Such was the case for Anastasia Lin, a China-born Canadian beauty queen who spoke out about human-rights abuses in China, only for herself and her family to become targets of the Chinese government's wrath.

"My father sent me a text message saying that they have contacted him telling him that if I continue to speak up, my family would be persecuted like in the Cultural Revolution. My father's generation grew up in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, so for him it's the biggest threat you can make. It means you die, you get publicly persecuted," said Lin.

With a government like the Communist Party of China, which has unprecedented control over its people, it's hard to say what celebrity political endorsements are genuine and which are forced propaganda. While it may be a combination of the two, as seems to be the case with Hong Kong-born action-star Jackie Chan, who now goes above and beyond as a pro-China advocate, one can never really know for sure. When "freedom" is removed from the equation and the safety of someone's family hangs in the balance, it's impossible to distinguish which Chinese celebrities are patriots and which are victims.

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FILM

A Case Study in Diversity: How "The Farewell" Teaches the Unteachable

Lulu Wang's The Farewell offers a prime case study on why culturally diverse voices are so necessary in our modern Hollywood landscape.

A24

Writer/director Lulu Wang's The Farewell offers a prime case study on why culturally diverse voices are so necessary in our modern Hollywood landscape—especially if we want interesting, original movies instead of endless franchise reboots.

Part of what makes The Farewell so unique is the specificity of its perspective. The story—which is almost entirely true and gained traction as a This American Life segment before being turned into a movie––follows Billi (Awkwafina in a brilliantly reserved performance), a young Chinese-American woman who discovers her Nai Nai (grandmother in Mandarin) is dying from lung cancer. Billi travels back to China to see Nai Nai and say her farewell, but there's a problem: Nai Nai doesn't actually know that she has cancer, and her family is determined not to tell her. As such, the family organizes the wedding of Billi's cousin, Hao Hao, as an excuse for everyone to gather in China.

This sets the stage for an emotionally fraught balancing act whereby Billi and her family need to feign excitement for a celebratory event that mainly exists as an excuse to say goodbye to a beloved family matriarch. But more than that, the premise allows Wang to explore the differences between American and Chinese culture surrounding family, illness, and death.

lulu wang Writer/Director Lulu WangJessica Lehrman

In American culture, individuality supersedes everything else.

Freedom of choice feels like a necessity, so naturally, we believe that if we're dying, we need to know in order to make proper preparations and plan the remainder of our lives accordingly. Having grown up in America, this is Billi's frame of mind.

But in Chinese culture, family far outweighs the individual. Many Chinese families are tight-knit in a way that American families are not. Oftentimes, Chinese families function as cohesive units wherein everyone, from siblings to cousins to grandparents, live within close proximity to one another and are involved in many elements of each others' lives, from elder care to child-rearing.

From this perspective, freedom of choice is not nearly as important; what's important is not making your family worry. This results in a reliance on "good lies." If you know you're sick, you hide it from your family so they don't worry unnecessarily. And if you know someone else is sick, you bear that burden for them so that they can continue living without stressing about the inevitable. It works out, because you trust your family implicitly to make decisions in your best interest.

In short, the American and Chinese perspectives could not be more opposite. But while many previous films, both American and Chinese, have explored these perspectives individually, it takes the perspective of someone with a foot in both cultures to adequately measure them up alongside one another.

Billi may be American for all intents and purposes, but she spent her early childhood in China and cares deeply for her Nai Nai. Her love for her family, along with pangs of guilt for not embracing her Chinese heritage more, tempers her automatic inclination towards the "righteousness" of Western philosophy. While she beats herself up internally for lying about her Nai Nai's health, she ultimately accepts her family's wishes. Even if she would prefer to be told the truth if she were in her grandma's shoes, she understands that her Nai Nai probably doesn't feel the same way. After all, her Nai Nai is culturally Chinese.

Ultimately, Nai Nai survived––both in the movie and real life. Wang's real-life experience took place over six years ago, when her own Nai Nai was given a three-month life expectancy. She's still alive to this day.

the farewell nai nai A24

It's hard to discuss a movie as impactful as The Farewell without delving into anecdote.

Watching as a white American with zero foreign cultural ties outside of "looking vaguely Jewish," I approached the matter with a thoroughly American perspective.

At first, I fully agreed with Billi's initial response to her family's proposal: shock and anger. It seemed cruel to let someone die without even giving them a chance to decide how they were going to spend their last few months. But by the end of the movie, I no longer felt so sure. Perhaps my initial outrage at customs unlike my own betrayed a deep-seated sense of cultural superiority. I didn't like that about myself, and I appreciated The Farewell for helping me see things from a different perspective.

My girlfriend, who's half-Chinese (she was born in America, but her mother is a first generation immigrant) had a very different reaction. We had recently seen a Bollywood video that was supposed to take place in New York City. It was funny, because their idea of New York was a giant American stereotype.

"Imagine if almost every movie you ever saw about your own culture was like that Bollywood video," my girlfriend said. "Then you see something like this where everything, from the dialogue to the set decorations, are spot on. It hit close to home."

Wang approaches cultural differences in her film with a softness and complexity that stems from an understanding of both American and Chinese culture but, more importantly, the space in-between, which is occupied only by people who have been torn between the two.

Diverse perspectives such as Wang's offer a limelight to unique cinematic experiences that most people would never have exposure to otherwise. And movies like The Farewell lead to cultural understanding, discussion, and introspection that simply isn't possible without them. They highlight the ongoing need for representation in Hollywood movies, and they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how diversity can be a force for good.

THE FAREWELL Trailer (2019) www.youtube.com