In August, Marvel president Kevin Feige personally addressed some of the most prominent Chinese criticisms. He recognized that Chinese viewers took issue with the main villain in the original comic published in 1972. Known as Fu Manchu, the character exemplified anti-Asian stereotypes based on racist notions associated with “Yellow Peril,” and accordingly generated considerable controversy. However, Feige reiterated that the character is not present in the film and that it was replaced with the intention to dispel such harmful caricatures.
He also addressed another prominent Chinese criticism that accused Simu Liu and his co-star Awkwafina of not being good-looking enough for their roles. At the time of the casting announcements, many Chinese netizens felt that the duo’s “stereotypical features” of “square faces and small eyes” conformed to “condescending Western perceptions” of Chinese people. Feige explained that Marvel wanted to go for a more unknown actor for the lead role and urged viewers to reserve their judgements until watching the movie.
However, it seems more and more unlikely that Shang-Chi will receive approval in China, particularly if the latest controversy gathers more steam. On Wednesday, nationalist accounts on Weibo posted images of an interview that Liu conducted with the CBC in 2017 as part of a series that invited Canadians to share what the country meant to them in honor of Canada 150. In the interview, Liu talks about his parents’ experiences growing up in China, where they heard “stories of people dying from starvation,” and many lived in “Third World” conditions. He then expressed how grateful he is to Canada for giving his family a chance at a better life as immigrants.
The interview inflamed existing nationalist grievances against Shang-Chi for its supposed undertones of “insulting China” (辱华 rǔ huá). In a domestic sociopolitical climate that emphasizes China’s rising place in the world and a distinct sense of renewed national self-confidence, Liu’s comments were seen by some as an attempt by foreign media to “smear China” with negative coverage. Moreover, the notion of Chinese immigrants leaving the country and celebrating the better life they enjoy elsewhere is becoming increasingly frowned upon in popular discourse as being unpatriotic.