Tea Leaf Nation

Chinese Media: Beware American ‘Cultural Products’

'Dark Knight' and 'Cloud Atlas' are part of an 'ideological struggle.' Who knew?

Image: Fair Use
Image: Fair Use

Look out, mainland China: Batman, cloaked in the cause of Hong Kong independence, is coming to get you, along with the cast of 2012’s special-effects filled, genre-busting summer extravaganza Cloud Atlas.  

A June 25 opinion piece in pro-Communist Party newspaper Global Times titled "Who Is Truly the Black Hand Behind Hong Kong Independence?" insists that U.S. skullduggery lies behind a non-binding Hong Kong referendum on universal suffrage. The vote, which allows participation at on-the-ground stations or online, is organized by Occupy Central with Love and Peace, an advocacy group started in early 2013. Organizers say over 700,000 have participated since ballots opened June 20, with voting slated to continue until June 29. The results have angered Beijing, which did not approve the vote and has asserted suzerainty over the officially independent former British colony in increasingly strident terms. Global Times earlier called the referendum "illegal" and insisted in a June 23 editorial that if 1.3 billion Chinese could weigh in, the result would be different. But Chinese people can’t vote, and the article was widely panned online. The latest piece takes a different tack, calling the referendum an effort to "create trouble for China" in order to render the country "unable to engage in the great power game" with its cross-Pacific rival.

The article flails at a wide array of U.S. targets — including the CIA, the non-profit National Endowment for Democracy, and the think tank American Enterprise Institute — before setting its crosshair on Hollywood’s Cloud Atlas and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, the latest installment in the U.S. superhero franchise. The Global Times writes that the two films demonstrate how "Westerners not only engage in ideological struggle" with China, but "package their ideology into cultural products" that Chinese then "unconsciously consume." To wit: Cloud Atlas‘ army of victimized slave clones "looks Asian," and producers "particularly sought Chinese actors" to play them. (The film features Chinese actresses Zhou Xun and Zhu Zhu as mistreated clones.) And the latest Batman’s villains "are made up to invoke Middle Eastern terrorists," while their mostly indecipherable patois "has a bit of the ‘proletariat’ flavor to it." The article is silent on how that relates to China.  

It’s obviously a tortured reading of the two films. Dark Knight never appeared on mainland screens, likely because the film depicts the protagonist’s unauthorized incursion into Chinese territory. Meanwhile, Cloud Atlas did show there, after heavy cuts by censors — and it was a hit. In the search for evidence of ideological struggle, Chinese state media may wish to get just a bit less creative.  

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian contributed research.

David Wertime is a senior editor at Foreign Policy, where he manages its China section, Tea Leaf Nation. In 2011, he co-founded Tea Leaf Nation as a private company translating and analyzing Chinese social media, which the FP Group acquired in September 2013. David has since created two new miniseries and launched FP’s Chinese-language service. His culture-bridging work has been profiled in books including The Athena Doctrine and Digital Cosmopolitans and magazines including Psychology Today. David frequently discusses China on television and radio and has testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. In his spare time, David is an avid marathon runner, a kitchen volunteer at So Others Might Eat, and an expert mentor at 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based incubator and seed fund. Originally from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, David is a proud returned Peace Corps volunteer. He holds an English degree from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard University.

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