Hayward: Communist China Praises Disney for ‘Patriotic Themes’ in ‘Mulan’ Remake

A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father. A live-action feature film based on Disney's 'Mulan.'
Walt Disney Pictures

China’s state-run Global Times on Wednesday castigated Western reviewers for criticizing Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Mulan.

According to the Chinese Communist paper, negative reactions to the trailer for Mulan are dishonest and politicized, while Disney should be applauded for retelling a great Chinese “patriotic saga.”

The Global Times looked beyond the heartbreaking absence of sassy midget dragons in the live-action Mulan trailer to praise the lovely cinematography and brisk action choreography on display in the trailer, which makes the Spring 2020 release look like Crouching Tiger, REALLY Well-Hidden Dragon. 

Global audiences dismayed over the severe shortage of movies about tiny women beating the hell out of men twice their size will doubtless embrace the Disney film’s exciting action scenes, but the Chinese Communist Party would like everyone to meditate on the patriotic qualities of the legend of Hua Mulan. The Global Times said:

“For miles and miles the army marched along, and crossed the mountain barriers as in flight … In ten years they’ve lost many captains strong, but battle-hardened warriors come back in delight.” This is an excerpt from an English version of the old Chinese ballad. These lines show the Chinese traditional spirit of protecting their homeland and resisting foreign aggression. Such noble spirit concerns a country’s destiny and has been one of the roots of traditional Chinese culture.

According to a report from Deadline.com, an online magazine on entertainment industry news, the Mulan trailer reached 175.1 million online views within its first 24 hours, making it the seventh-highest trailer launch of all time. Why is it highly expected by so many people worldwide? The main reason is the story is attractive. The sword fights and acrobatics performed by Liu Yifei, widely known as “fairy sister” in China, are also an important reason. People love to see the Chinese elements in the trailer, which also includes the above-mentioned Chinese spirit.

Admirers of Chinese history and culture around the world are more than a little annoyed with the Chinese Communist Party co-opting legends that predate its existence by centuries. The Communist Party, for its part, is severely annoyed with people who notice that American film studios are bending over backward to please it so they can maintain access to the lucrative Chinese box office. The Global Times remarked:

To say that “Disney is bowing to China’s nationalistic agenda” is absurd. Hua Mulan is a legendary Chinese warrior who loves her homeland. Thus, every version of Mulan is supposed to be naturally endowed with patriotism to be in line with the authentic story. But in Disney’s 1998 animated Mulan, Americans intentionally weakened the patriotic spirit and intensified gender equality and female independence. Isn’t this “bowing to” Western ideology?

Better tread carefully, Global Times! One more crack about artificially infusing classic tales with feminist ideology and you’ll be torn to shreds by the maenads currently eviscerating the “misogynists” who shrugged at the trailer for the new Terminator movie. The Global Times said:

If Disney wants to appropriately tell the story, patriotism should and must be included. Patriotism is natural, and it also explains why the story has been eulogized for more than a thousand years in China. There is nothing wrong for Hua Mulan to appear “solemn and resolute,” because this is how people will appear when they are in a life-or-death war and this is also the spirit of Chinese warriors. 

Soaked in the Western environment, many Western people failed to notice that Hua Mulan is a legendary in China who is brave enough to protect her family and her homeland. She is a hero, not a so-called robotic warrior. Mulan is scheduled to be released in 2020, but there have already been extensive discussions online. We hope the discussions will trigger people’s attention to Chinese culture and tradition. This is an important factor to understand today’s China.

That is a lot of baggage to load onto a 90-second trailer for a movie that will not be out until next year, which might give Disney enough time to throw in a few songs and render a wisecracking lizard. 

The original Mulan was fun. If Americans want the fun sucked out of their movies, Hollywood has plenty of homegrown scolds and ideologues who can handle the job without any help from Beijing. The appetite of world audiences for a grim lecture on Chinese nationalism might be a bit less than the Global Times anticipates.

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