Whoever has won the US presidential elections, China is ready. The movie Sacrifice (金剛川 2020) tells us why.
by Wong Tsz (王子)
The time was June 1953, the Korean War had been going on for three years, Chinese volunteers were still fighting tirelessly in a war they believed was necessary to defend their motherland. The mountains of Kumsong set the foreground of the last major battle of the war. In the valley of the mountains lies the Kumsong River (金剛川). Chinese engineers were ordered to build a bridge on the river to ensure the logistical support to the troops stationed in the mountain. The bridge was destroyed seven times by UN artillery and air raids and seven times it was rebuilt by brave Chinese volunteers. The movie Sacrifice – the original title of which is “Kumsong River” (金剛川) – narrates the perspectives of three soldiers at this scene.
The reasons behind China’s involvement in the Korean War were manifold: a communist alliance, the wider impact of Maoism, Chinese national security interests, economic incentives from Soviet Russia to its eastern neighbors and the need to consolidate domestic political control in mainland China shortly after defeating the Nationalists. The official terminology in China for the Korean War is ‘抗美援朝’ – ’Resist US Aggression and Aid (North) Korea’-, a term that avoids explicitly mentioning of the term ‘war’: the Chinese were helping the Koreans while the Americans were the demon. This perspective would of course be interpreted very differently in South Korea and in the West. The Korean War was the first ‘hot’ war of the Cold War, and the distress of a communist expansion in East Asia was clear and imminent. For many years, this conflict has been a very sensitive part of Chinese history – but things are changing.
In a time of global pandemic where a global war is fought against the newest form of coronavirus, another battle regarding information and its usage is at stake. Conspiracy theories and controversial figures flourish throughout the internet and other media, contributing to the overall chaotic situation and possibly serving the interests of some people. This interest of mine for disinformation in time of a pandemic started about a month ago when a classmate sent on a WhatsApp group a message the following information: “According to a friend, a leak from the official Czech government has revealed that when 1,000 cases of coronavirus will be reported in the country, tighter restrictions will be imposed. If you are a smart person you should rush to supermarkets to gather food.” This rumour was proven false in the days that followed, yet this message managed to trigger some fear and added to the overall uncomfortable situation of being a stranger in a country whose culture you’re not completely familiar with.Continue reading “Covid-19 also spreads hoaxes: How the pandemic became the stage for a war on (dis)information”→
The story is known – some would even say simple: on November 17, 1989, a large demonstration in Prague triggered the Velvet Revolution, that would peacefully end four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia; Václav Havel would be the President of the new federal Republic, which would split between the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. Then, both countries would join NATO and the European Union, keeping close diplomatic ties. Czechia would constantly be confused with Chechnya, and Slovak diplomats in Brussels would have to organise regular mail-swapping meetings with their Slovenian counterparts. Meanwhile, everyone would keep talking about Czechoslovakia as if these two countries only made sense when together.
Nonetheless, if you sit down and listen to Czechs and Slovaks, you realise the story is not that simple: for them, the Velvet Revolution cannot be reduced to just one demonstration, one election, and one painful breakup.
Therefore, instead of a banal memo about various events organised around the Czech Republic to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this major historical milestone, here is an attempt to help international readers to see the events from a Czech, or actually Czechoslovak perspective, through the eyes of people who actually saw the events as they happened – on TV, in the newspapers, or on the main square of their city or village. I interviewed three historians, who were in very different locations in November 1989. They were between 7 and 19 years old, thus each gives a very different perspective on the events that unfolded thirty years ago. All of them are now part of the Euroculture team at the Department of History of Palacký University in Olomouc. You will find more information about them at the end of this article; their age at the time of the Velvet Revolution is given next to their names in the article. Continue reading “1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.””→
Bruce Lee once shared his philosophy with others: “Be formless, be shapeless, like water. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.” This Hong Kong-American actor would not expect that 47 years after his death his philosophy of life would be adopted by protesters in Hong Kong against their own government.
After a tear gas grenade been hurled towards the protesting crowds, two masked protesters quickly covered the smoking grenade with a traffic corn and poured the bottled water through the hole on top of it to put out the smoke, as if they had been trained to deal with tear shell for a long time. In the meantime, other gathered protesters started drawing back with opening umbrellas in their hands pointing at the police force in case of more tear bombs. They moved together towards the next neighbouring street. This scene has been happening everywhere in Hong Kong for more than five months already.
The protest that involved more than millions of people in Hong Kong has become the largest uprising so far against local government and Beijing authorities in the back. Unlike the last big scale protest broke out in 2014, so called the Umbrella Revolution, where people occupied all central areas of the city and refused to leave, this time Hongkongers learned their lessons and became more flexible. They haunted in every corner of the city and once they met the police they strategically pulled out and moved to another “battleground”, formless and shapeless, “like water”, as Bruce Lee said.
The starting point of this protest on an unprecedented scale is an Amendment. Three months ago the HK government tried to push ahead with an Amendment of the existing extradition law titled Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, in which it was regulated that in the future the fugitives arrested in Hong Kong can be extradited to Macau, Taiwan, and most controversially, Mainland China.
On June 9th, around one million people occupied the street with signs written NO CHINA EXTRADITION in their hands. However, in the following days as the police started shooting tear gas bombs and rubber bullets towards gathered crowds, the peaceful protests escalated to a series of riots quickly. Soon, the situation further deteriorated while the protesters blocked the HK airport and a mainland China journalist was beaten up by angry protesters. The relative video went viral on Chinese social media Weibo and stirred up the anger from Chinese side and resulted in a huge and still on-going online flame war between HK and mainland China people.
However, although the protestors’ emotional and violent actions at the airport and their decision to block the whole airport, which led to thousands of passengers stranded at the airport, are debatable, it is inappropriate simply defining this pro-democracy protest as a sinister interference by Western Powers that tried to “subvert China’s political system” nor defining the protesters as “rioters” or even “terrorists”, as stated by Chinese official media report.
HK problem is a long-rooted problem. The Amendment for extradition bill just lit the fuse. Since Hong Kong was handed over from Britain in 1997, the dissatisfaction of HK citizens toward HK government has raised a lot.
According to a public opinion poll conducted by Hong Kong University, in 2019 only 10.8% of Hong Kong citizens identified themselves as “Chinese” and more than 50% chose “Hongkonger”. One of the reasons behind is the decreasing credibility of the government. Taking the Amendment as example, the protesters’ biggest concern is that after the Amendment get approved, Hong Kong citizens and foreigners passing through the city can be arrested and sent to mainland China for trials due to political reasons. But actually, HK government specifically underlined that human rights will still be guaranteed that no suspect of political offences will be covered under the bill.
However, it is clear that citizens do not trust their government anymore, which is reasonable considering Wing-Kee Lam’s experience. In 2005, Wing-Kee Lam, a Hong Kong bookseller who sold books critical for China, was arrested in Hong Kong and detained in China later for “operating a bookstore illegally”. Currently Lam has fled to Taiwan in fear of the approval of the Amendment.
Also, during the past two months, HK government’s double standard and inaction only raised more substantial doubts on itself. On 21st July, more than 20 men in white shirts showed up in Yuen Long area and attacked all black-dressed (the protesters’ united dressing color) passersby indiscriminately, including old people and pregnant women. According to witnesses, the emergency call that could not get connected for a long time and the local police station was closed. Some even stated that they saw the police, who witnessed the bloody and violent attacks of white-shirt men, just turned around and left. Until today, 28 arrested white men have all been bailed and only two of them were prosecuted. Compared to the police’s quick reaction to the protesters, their actions that night made the citizens start questioning whether the police received orders from the government and whether the government is taking double standard against pro-China and pro-Hong Kong demonstrators.
On the other hand, the protests have been lasting for more than five months but HK government neither took any concrete actions nor answered any demands of citizens. It keeps condemning protesters’ violence but ignored the truth that HK police took unnecessary and inhumane actions against the demonstrators such as shooting with bean bag round at a very close distance, which violated the term of use and had led to a girl’s blindness. For now, HK government’s strategy is obviously taking no actions and this was what they have done five years ago during the Umbrella Revolution, which ended under the pressure of growing discontent citizens who had been tired of month-long protest. However, this time, there’s no tendency yet that the on-going protest will be ceasing in the near future.
When Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, it was promised that for the next 50 years Hong Kong’s civic freedom and “a high degree of autonomy” would be guaranteed. These 50 years are supposed to be a transition time for Hong Kong to entirely return to China. However, there seems to have been signs that China’s “one country, two systems” policy is failing and the gap between mainland China and Hong Kong is actually expanding. The protest started from an extradition bill but is not only about it. It is a concentrated outbreak of long-rooted and deep-rooted problems. What will happen next? What will happen after the 50 years limit finish? There’s still no answer for it.
Fangjia Chen is from China and has a background in Business English. She has always wanted to study European cultures and live in Europe. After a recommendation from her supervisor, she decided to apply for Euroculture. Fangjia spent her first and second semesters at Strasbourg and Göttingen before following the research track at the Department of International Relations and International Development, University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
Thanks Fangjia for taking the time to share your experience!
1. Why did you decide to do research for your third Euroculture semester?
I decided to do a research semester mainly because of the content of the research track. In Groningen, the research semester is composed of a research internship and research seminars. You can choose a field that you want to work with. I’m really into China-EU relations, and the university found a really great internship job for me at the International Relations (IR) department.
Everyone should be aware of this fact, after two world wars, many genocides and a major crisis triggered by terrorism worldwide: when something happens in one specific country, the entire region surrounding this country is affected; and when a whole region is impacted, the entire world ends up facing consequences of this local event. It is the principle of the well-known butterfly effect. Therefore, how can we not hear the call for help coming from Venezuelans fleeing their country? How can we ignore the growing tensions on the borders between Venezuela and its neighbours?
Seen from Europe, the ongoing crisis in the north-west of the Latin American region reminds of another crisis that Europeans had to face and are still facing – the so-called “refugee crisis”. One might be stunned by how relevant this comparison is, but also puzzled by what it means for our governments and international organisations. After two resolutions failed to pass at the United Nations in the last few days, here is a timely reminder of what is actually happening at the border. Nicolás Javier Pedraza Garcia, currently an exchange student from Universidad Externado de Colombia (Externado University, Bogotá, Colombia) at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, agreed to give his insight to help us understand the situation from a local perspective.
Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are a very good example of what can be achieved when two independent states decide to cooperate for the better good of their respective economies. Who needs a hard border when both populations speak the same language, work and live together, and benefit from this soft border situation? Until the political crisis hit the Venezuelan economy, “the border was just a line”; now, the border area is described mostly as a “war zone”, or a “conflict zone”. “The border is experiencing a very bad situation both economically and socially; most of Venezuelans who are fleeing are poor, so they stay at the border and are forced to engage in criminal activities such as drug trafficking or prostitution to survive. We, Colombians, try to help as much as we can, but our local government does not have the institutional nor the infrastructure capacity to attend to the situation. Maybe the situation is better in some other cities, but at the border, it is a crisis situation. We have been asking for more financial and human resources from the national government, but so far we are left alone to take care of these people.” Continue reading “REPORT: What Happens in Venezuela Does Not Stay in Venezuela”→
China has long been known as the “world’s factory”, while Central and Eastern Europe has been called the “factory of Europe”. Will there be a new type of alignment between both factories? Or just as the old story said, the scene becomes chaotic as they cannot understand each other?
According to the latest statistics of Chinese Customs, the total trade amount of import and export between China and 16 CEE countries reached 67.98 billion US dollars in 2017, with the increase rate of 15.9% compared to the previous year. China’s exports amounted to 49.49 billion US dollars, with the increase rate of 13.1%, while imports amounted to 18.49 billion US dollars, with an increase rate of 24%.
The 16+1 format is a new form of international cooperation between China and CEE countries, and also between the Western and Eastern worlds. This initiative, raised by China, aimed at intensifying and expanding cooperation with 11 EU Member States and 5 Balkan countries (namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia) in the fields of investments, transport, finance, science, education, and culture in 2012.
But 6 years have passed and the echoes from two sides are still strikingly different. From the Chinese government’s side, it was said that pragmatic cooperation has been expanding which brought benefits to the 17 countries. Economic and financial cooperation has steadily increased. On the other side, the European Union and Western European countries expressed concerns about this mechanism, and the Central and Eastern European countries (especially EU countries) considered that the achievement was limited. Continue reading “A Tower of Babel Between CEE Countries & China?”→
The Asian Century is a debated concept which posits the idea that the 21st century will be led by the Asian continent from an economic, political, and cultural perspective. Supposedly, the previous 19th and 20th centuries, have been the British (European) and the American centuries respectively. The AsianDevelopmentBank is so confident of such an accomplishment that it published a report in 2011 titled “Asia 2050: Realizing the Asian Century.”
The implications are plentiful and, unsurprisingly, global. Yet this article aims to move one step beyond the above discussion. Over the past few weeks, several articles have focused on the possibility of a shift of power in Eurasia, from different angles. The first piece, “Black Wind, White Snow: Imagining Eurasia”by Casey Michel was published on TheDiplomat website, which referred to a recently released book reflecting on the Russian concept of “Eurasianism.” The notion was apparently coined, or at least, co-opted by the Kremlin and surrounding bodies as a way to promote and promise a brighter future to the disillusioned post-Cold war generations. The outcome of this attempt at normative construction has been mixed, according to Michel, but an overall aura of pessimism is perceivable across the book, suggesting that the imagined Eurasia may stay in the Kremlin’s mind.
Still, due to its strategic position and regional influence, it is crucial to consider the role of Russia in any potential Eurasian ‘coalition’.
The second and third articles tackle the issue from a more inclusive perspective and, perhaps startlingly, depict two opposite scenarios. The first one is from George Friedman, an expert in intelligence and international geopolitics, who wrote an article for Forbes claiming that the “Last time Eurasian Instability Was This Bad Was Before World War II”, describing several factors to justify such a dire prediction. A few examples are the supposed failure of the European Union, followed by the Russian and Middle Eastern crisis, in addition to the aforementioned slowdown in both China and Japan’s economies. The only exception, according to the author, is India, but that country alone will not be able to stop a ‘grand’ destabilization affecting the whole Eurasian continent.
Such a vision, in my opinion, is rather unconvincing, especially when considering the economic and geopolitical self-interest of the majority of the Eurasian countries. Their goal is, mostly, to pursue peaceful means of gain, being well aware that armed conflicts can bring far more disadvantages than benefits. A notable exception may be North Korea, for obvious reasons.
The last article, which I particularly enjoyed, provides a more optimistic view on the phenomenon. Graham E. Fuller, a former senior CIA official, wrote for TheWorldPost (partner of the renowned HuffingtonPost) an article entitled “The Era of American Global Dominance Is Over.”Such a bold statement from an American citizen may sound preposterous to some. Yet it is another piece covering the position of Eurasia, seen as an increasingly relevant one in this article. The author recognizes that the term itself may remind the readers of a geographical feature more than a political one, Eurasia as a sole, vast landmass. The author sees it as more than that. The central reason why Fuller thinks that the US is failing to deal with Eurasia is its stubbornness in ignoring the mega-continent “rising force” which is attracting more and more nation-states to its sphere. The article then mentions several economic, military and political reasons that support the author’s well-articulated stance. Nonetheless, the recurring theme is that the current century has seen the demise of Western global dominance and that the US should accept it now in order to take advantage of such power shift, while is still happening.
This last article appears to be the most convincing when you look to the latest global developments. A change is indeed happening, and although it does not mean that the US is not going to occupy a predominant position, their position is certain to be less hegemonic.
The above articles may not follow a common pattern and they likely originated from different pitches. Still, they have all been published in the past few days which may be a peculiar coincidence or a hint of an upcoming geopolitical trend. Regardless of that, it is unquestionable that the current European situation may benefit from additional transcontinental collaborations and a more balanced, multipolar power redistribution may benefit all the global players in the long run.
Can we continue relying on internet hosts to be solely responsible for taking down offensive content or hate speech?
Last week’s headlines traced the scuffle between Norway and Mark Zuckerberg when one of Norway’s largest newspapers, Aftenposten, criticised Facebook for removing their photos of the ‘napalm girl’ on account of child nudity. The photo of the ‘napalm girl’ or Phan Thị Kim Phúc, from Vietnam and now a Canadian citizen, was taken on 7th June1972 during the Vietnam War. It shows her as a nine year-old-child, running away from a South Vietnamese napalm attack which left her severely burned. Taken by Nick Ut of the Associated Press, the image is world famous for its depiction of the violence of the Vietnam conflict. Zuckerberg later reneged on his decision to remove the photo and acknowledged the iconic status of the historical image. Whilst this incident might primarily raise alarm bells about the power that Facebook wields over our modern lives, it is also symptomatic of the arbitrariness of online content monitoring.
Alongside its status as one of the most democratic exercises in information sharing, the internet is home to an increasing body of offensive content and unchecked manifestations of hate speech. Whilst some self-censuring is taking place, (for example in the form of ‘NSFW’ indications and ‘content notes’), such warnings are essentially used in a humorous manner. If there’s to be a concerted effort to tackle hate speech and offensive material which transcends the old adage of turning a blind eye, how is this to be achieved?
Should governments and the international community have a role to play?
Simply put, the answer from the European Convention on Human Rights is a resounding no. Article 10 ECHR guarantees freedom of expression for all and goes on to say that:
‘This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.’
This freedom is extended to internet users and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has confirmed that ‘the state [must] not exercise surveillance over Internet users’ communications and activity on the internet except when this is strictly in compliance with Articles 8 and 10 of the Convention.’ The Court’s case law confirms a support for freedom of expression, even if the article does allow some margin of appreciation for states to take restrictive measures, as was the case in Delfi v. Estonia , where the court held that there had not been a violation of Article 10.
Similarly, Article 11 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights provides that ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers’.
This is inherently a good thing. Of course there are some countries in Europe where the systematic blocking of whole websites has severely reduced freedom of expression and access to internet material to an unacceptable level. Consider the recent ECHR case, Cengiz and others v. Turkey, where the court unanimously held that there had been a violation of article 10 due to the blocking of access to Google over a long period(Ahmet Yıldırım v. Turkey ). And yet, the question we must ask ourselves is, if governments aren’t checking online content, then who is?
Net neutrality: a commercial myth?
The hands-off approach taken to internet monitoring by national governments (as advised by the Council of Europe and EU) results in a two-fold problem:
this leaves internet providers and website hosts – i.e. private companies – in charge of monitoring content;
these companies are sensitive to legal threats, as well as their reputation among their users and end up haphazardly take down content without serious reflection.
In the case of the former, the crux is this: when we leave it to web hosts to decide what is suitable content and what isn’t, we are allowing organisations with their own commercial, social and political agendas to act as the moral arbiters for all society. Is this democratic?
And in the case of the latter, this is exactly what happened with Facebook napalm incident. Is this double burden of total freedom and total responsibility not actually counter-productive to freedom of expression online? As the 2016 Annual report on state of human rights, democracy and rule of law in Europe concludes:
‘the fact that internet intermediaries fear being held liable for the content they transmit may have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression online.’
If we’re serious about blocking hate speech and inappropriate content, we need more explicit guidelines from governments and IOs. As it stands, we hail our freedom from government censorship but are trapped in an online game where private web hosts write their own rulebooks.
“A true story about fortune cookies: they look Chinese, they sound Chinese, but they’re actually an American invention, which is why they’re hollow, full of lies and leave a bad taste in the mouth.”
This is a quote from Mandarin in the opening of Iron Man 3, the final episode of Iron Man trilogy movie series.
Mandarin is a notable figure in Iron Man, both the comic and the movie versions. He was first created in 1964 in the Tales of Suspense as the ultimate rival of Tony Stark (Iron Man). Since Mandarin has been created for over 40 years already, the description of the transformation of Mandarin could be a far-ﬂung journey. Instead of biting off more than it can chew, this article simply aims to compare the two different Mandarins from 1964 Marvel Comic to 2013 movie figure. I note here that Mandarin refers not only to the actual figure in Iron Man, but may also refer to the Bureaucrat which represents China, as well as the Chinese language and culture; to avoid confusion, I refer Mandarin hereon to the Marvel figure only, not the others.
“Who is Mandarin?”
Who is Mandarin? Mandarin as a fiction character is described to have been born around 1920 in China. His father was a Mongolian nobleman descended from Genghis Khan, and his mother was an English aristocrat. Raised by his embittered aunt after his parents’ death, he became an important member of the Kuomintang Party before the Communist’s rule over China in 1949. Throughout his own discovery of mysterious power, he found a wreckage of a starship of the reptilian Kakaranatharian, or Makluan, extra-terrestrial race; there he found 10 rings with mysterious powers. Aimed to conquer the whole of China, and then the whole world, Mandarin set his base in China, and later also in Hong Kong. With his teleport technology derived from the Kakaranatharian spaceship, he could travel anywhere anytime. Mandarin also engaged in conflicts with other Marvel figures.
(Fig. 1 Mandarin’s first appearance in Tales of Suspense, 1964)
In the original Marvel comic, Mandarin never regarded himself as a terrorist or a teacher as he was described in the 2013 movie. Although one may find some resemblances of Mandarin with earlier evil Chinese figures found in western culture, namely Fu Manchu and Yellow Claw: long moustache, chinky eyes, and quasi-oriental outfit, Mandarin can be perceived very differently in many ways when compared with the previous Chinese villains. In fact, although according to Marvel’s official information Mandarin holds Chinese citizenship; he was never meant to be an equivalent to Fu Manchu or Yellow Claw; nevertheless, he is partially Chinese, therefore it should not be overlooked that Mandarin’s half Chinese half British origin gives great space of alteration of the character.
(Fig.2 Ben Kingsley as Mandarin in Iron Man 3, 2013)
What we find in Iron Man 3, however, is a completely different Mandarin.
Played by the Oscar-winning British actor Ben Kingsley, Mandarin is no longer the superpower evil which may control over almost everything. Yes, he was wearing 10 rings, but is without any superpower at all. To be more precise, he was just a puppet, a puppet of the real villain, Aldrich Killian. With sunglasses, Kingsley’s Mandarin looks more like a hip-hop star rather than a Chinese villain. In other words, the 2013 Mandarin shows almost no resemblances to Chinese at all.
The dilemma here I find on identifying Mandarin, or attempting to identify who Mandarin really is, is that, Mandarin is half British and half Chinese, which means Mandarin could be both ‘Western’ and ‘Orient’ at the same time. Thus, the proportion of ‘Chineseness’ or ‘Britishness’ may vary.
Mandarin’s Ten Rings
As I mentioned earlier, both Mandarins represent an evil figure from the Orient. Thus, the question is where exactly is the Orient? I reckon that the meaning of Orient changes when Mandarin himself changes. Considering the fact that the USA was engaged in wars during the time where both Mandarins were created. The first Mandarin was created in the 60s during the war with Vietnam. The latter was created in the early 21st century during the wars in the Middle East. One can see how Mandarin transformed from a Far-East villain to a Middle East villain. This can be proven by the changes in Mandarin’s ten rings:
Ten Rings to which Mandarin and all other evils in the Iron Man 1-3 movies are connected to. The Ten Rings group is based in Afghanistan, and led by Mandarin. The organization’s flag, symbol, as well as the dress code of its terrorist, are all highly associated with the Middle East:
(Fig. 4 Flag of the Ten Rings terrorist group, 2008-2013)
(Fig. 5 Tony Stark captured by Ten Rings in Iron Man 1 movie, 2008)
As I could see from the Iron Man movies, Mandarin’s magical ten rings were transformed into a terrorist group, Ten Rings, where all members wear one of the ten rings as a symbol. And here’s where the point of attention shifts: from Mandarin as an important figure to a terrorist group, the Ten Rings organization. In other words, Mandarin’s evil standing in the movie is strongly weakened.
And here’s something else.
More than the shift of focus and thus the ‘weakened’ Mandarin, the over-stretching ‘Orientalness’ in Mandarin’s character also gives fuel for further discussions. I consider the invention and reinvention of Mandarin as a reflection of the changing villain who Iron Man has been fighting against, hence, the evil ‘Others’. Both the 1964 Mandarin and the 2013 Mandarin show a lot of ambiguities. Yet, as I have demonstrated, despite the shift of characteristics in Mandarin himself, Mandarin was, at least partially, Chinese.
The perception of Iron Man 3 in China, especially by the Chinese audience, is therefore highly worthy of attention. To avoid the film from being banned by Chinese film authority, the name of Mandarin was changed to Man Daren (滿大人); the term Mandarin bears heavy association with Chinese ethnicity, whereas Man Daren does not. ‘Man’ is a very uncommon family name in China, and ‘Daren’ refers to a senior male. Such efforts in minimizing the Chineseness of Mandarin in the Chinese market, is done to avoid the racist connotation regarding this Chinese figure, regardless if he is evil or not. More than that, in order to suit the huge market of Chinese audience, Iron Man 3 has a 4-minute-longer version tailor-made for Chinese audience, featuring famous Chinese actor and actress together with the Hollywood cast. As a result, the opening box office in China made a record-high 21 million US dollars. But what may be more profitable than the box office: both the original and Chinese version of Iron Man 3 embedded various Chinese brands into the movie for commercial promotions. The slight awkwardness of embedding Chinese movie stars and brands with Hollywood cast in the 4-minute-longer Chinese versions was not very well received among all the Chinese audience. However the effort of minimizing Mandarin’s Chineseness seems to have paid off, the overall perception of Iron Man, as well as Mandarin was mainly positive on the Chinese market.
When Mandarin first appeared in the Marvel comic in 1964, the USA was experiencing fierce civil right movements. On 11 June 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on the milestone Civil Rights Act, and later in 1964, the Act was enacted on 2 July; the African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the same year. One may thus argue that Mandarin could be regarded as a more ethnic-conscious figure under the tide of the civil rights movements. I noted previously that during the 1950s and the 1960s, the USA was in military conflict with communist regimes in Korea and Vietnam, where China also dispatched military interventions against the USA. One may thus assume that there might be parallel between staging Mandarin as an Oriental villain and actual Oriental enemies of the USA to that time.
Like Mandarin, China has undergone significant changes since the 1960s, and is now considered an important economic and political partner of the USA. My article serves only a glance of the transformation of Mandarin; the invention and reinvention of the character. Yet, despite all the differences, one may still find considerable ambiguities in both the old and new Mandarin. One shouldalso not forget, that Mandarin, or Man Daren, was, and still is, partly Chinese. Yet how the Western audience sees Mandarin, and how the Eastern sees Man Daren, could be something quite different.
Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.