Source: AAS, Asia Now blog (9/17/20)
More Hun than Han: Reading the Tabghach “Ballad of Mulan” in 2020
By James Millward
Mulan is not originally a story about a patriotic Chinese woman. It is not a story about self-sacrifice to defend one’s country. It is not a thrilling tale of martial valor. It is, rather, a commentary on the fruitlessness of war against people who are more like oneself than different, delivered in the voice of a woman who does her familial duty out of necessity and then chucks her medals and goes home—a war-weary expression of truth to power.
Perhaps because of the barriers to actually seeing the new Mulan remake (thanks to the pandemic and Disney’s steep charge of $30 plus a subscription fee to its streaming service), commentary about the new film has been trickling out over a few weeks. The most recent controversy, first on Twitter and then in the New York Times and other publications, is over the credits: Disney thanks security and political authorities in Turfan (Turpan), Xinjiang, for facilitating their filming in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Disney filmed part of Mulan amidst Turfan’s desert scenery well after it was clear that just around the corner were multiple concentration camps inflicting “transformation through education” upon Uyghurs and other Xinjiang indigenous peoples. Hundreds of such camps have been built across the Uyghur region starting in 2017 and were well-reported by the time Disney started filming in 2018. Had Disney staff consulted Baidu Maps while scouting film sites, they might have seen grey tiles blacking out certain places from view: blank spaces that we now know mark the sites of camps. Having now just seen the film, I’ve been thinking about the Mulan tradition in light of Xi Jinping’s assimilationist policies and trends in China today: the atrocities in Xinjiang; CCP efforts to limit Mongolian language in schools in the Mongolian Autonomous Region, just as it has restricted Uyghur in the Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibetan in the Tibetan Autonomous Region; pressure to reduce Cantonese use in Guangdong and denigrate it in Hong Kong; the further repression of Hong Kong democracy and near elimination of promised autonomy, accompanied by egregious police violence which the Disney Mulan actress Yifei Crystal Liu publicly supported on Weibo a year ago. Continue reading