Marvel's ‘Shang-Chi' Was Made With China in Mind. Here's Why Beijing Doesn't Like It

"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is the latest movie to run into trouble in the country as nationalism and U.S.-China tensions rise

Simu Liu and Jayden Zhang 'Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings'
Photo by Ryan Emberley/Getty Images for Disney

Marvel's latest superhero film, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," has been a hit with with global audiences, having earned more at U.S. theaters than any other movie during the coronavirus pandemic and grossed more than $366 million worldwide since it was released early last month.

But despite its box office success and the overwhelmingly positive reaction of Asian communities worldwide, Marvel's first with a predominantly Asian cast isn't playing on a single screen in mainland China, which last year overtook North America as the world's biggest movie market.

The propaganda department of China's ruling Communist Party, which regulates the country's film and TV industry, didn't respond to a request for comment on why "Shang-Chi" has no release day. But experts point to the deterioration of U.S.-China relations, rising Chinese nationalism and the character's racist comic book past.

The early Shang-Chi comics were rife with stereotypes about Asians — the characters were portrayed in unnatural yellow tones. Shang-Chi's father, a power-hungry villain named Fu Manchu, has been criticized as a symbol of "yellow peril," a xenophobic ideology originating in the 19th century in which Asians, especially Chinese, were viewed as a threat to Western existence.

"Chinese audiences cannot accept a prejudiced character from 100 years ago is still appearing in a new Marvel film," the Beijing-based film critic Shi Wenxue told the Global Times, a state-backed nationalist tabloid.

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