This is pretty legit. After spending eight-and-a-half years in China, I have gained some insight into current Chinese Mainland culture, which should not be confused with other Asian nations and cultures, including Taiwan and Hong Kong. In a previous post where I discussed some commentaries regarding Solo‘s flop and China’s poor showing, I also touched on how The Last Jedi got a lukewarm reception in China – particularly Rose Tico. Increasing forms of Chinese Mainland film expectations, nationalism, cultural beliefs, and political views have been ignored by Hollywood and The Last Jedi suffered for it.
Chinese Film Expectations
I think Kelly Marie Tran is a cute actress, and most Chinese people might have supported her and the entire cast – as long as their acting was good, and the movie made sense.
When I talked to my Chinese friend, she said this:
Cuz the plot of The Last Jedi is not good…and the acting is not good too…so what Chinese ppl expect is beautiful faces.
In other words, if a film is has a great story, is well-acted, and is meaningful, then physical attractiveness (or race casting) of the actors are not important. However, if the film has none of these attributes, then Chinese expect beautiful people to be offered at least. This is a common film expectation in China where, if the film is poorly done, the expectation is that at least viewers can be transported by beauty. The Last Jedi offers neither.
After both World Wars, Europe “learned its lesson”: nationalism carried too far takes lives. A lot of rhetoric today about the future of a peaceful global village carries forward this undercurrent of anti-nationalism and accompanying anti-patriotism. This trend is also supported by “white guilt” – a cultural process designed to make Europeans (and their immigrant descendants) to feel guilty about their “long” colonial history.
China has no such compunctions. In fact, most of Asia’s more historically powerful countries such as China, Japan, Mongolia, and Turkey (see Further Reading below for more details) have engaged in colonial processes and don’t feel apologetic to this day.
Within the confines of this article, I am not particularly concerned with whether feeling apologetic is positive or negative; rather, I want to explain the way in which Mainland Chinese perceive themselves – a strong country and a world leader historically and currently. From their perspective, anyone – including Taiwan and Tibet – should feel pleased to be a part of the “China Dream”. Due to this mindset, culturally appropriating Chinese culture is virtually impossible.
Therefore, you can understand why Hollywood’s assumption that Mainland Chinese would be excited about Asia being represented by a Vietnamese woman betrays a foundational misunderstanding about what China (or any Asian nation) values. This situation is worsened by Rose Tico’s decisions which do not align with standard Chinese ideology.
Chinese Core Cultural Beliefs
Given the unapologetic nationalism of most Chinese people and their belief in Chinese cultural superiority, it is no surprise that Rose Tico had a lukewarm reception. Rose Tico’s behavior on Canto Bight and Crait in The Last Jedi undermines how the average Chinese person views priorities regarding life and nation.
On Canto Bight, Rose Tico decries two societal excesses – unnecessary consumption and cruelty toward animals. Both sentiments, I am sure, come from a genuine place both for the writer and the character. However, both reveal a lack of awareness about the humanity of the Chinese people, the Darwinian pragmatism of Communist China, and the hypocrisy of Hollywood.
Like most humans around the globe, Chinese people don’t want to be poor. They want to be rich, which is why quite a few Chinese entrepreneurs have arisen in the past few years. Citing the Forbes article, Wikipedia sums it up: “The U.S. continued to have the most billionaires in the world, with a record of 585, while China is catching up with 476 (when including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan).” Looking sideways at real-life Canto Bight counterparts, like many humans, Chinese folk want the better life. 99% of my female students hoped “to marry up” and will pursue Western men for better financial stability, personal freedom, and Western romance culture. A desire for material gain and stability, it seems, does not merely exist in the domain of the capitalist. Perhaps we can lay this at the door of human nature. Like most folks around the globe, Chinese folk would embrace a world of high consumption, whether or not it came at the cost of others.
Marxist Communist equality still an unachieved dream, the default mode remains more instinctual – the pragmatic Darwinian survival of the fittest family and nation. Yet, although Chinese people traditionally treasure the family unit over everything, the status quo will inevitably clash with self-interest and state interests. We can see this tension rising as young women resist being shunted back into the home to make babies for their families or for China. Burdens, even familial, are pushed aside in the race for happiness and security. When a country has the population of 1.4 BILLION people, you can imagine why the rat race exists. As a result, girls and disabled children populate poorly funded orphanages, which are often propped up with staffing and financial aid from foreign (religious and non-religious) NGOs. Rose Tico’s lamentation over the indulgences of the rich at the expense of the poor may ring true with Communism’s original idea – to bring economic equality to all, but the reality of making that happen at the expense of one’s comfort does not carry through in the lives of most Chinese Communists today. The China Dream may enshrine remnants of the Zhedong administration’s idealization of the peasant, but that holds no real practical weight as more and more Chinese families abandon farming and their villages in hopes of making it in the big cities. The elderly and the disabled are left behind. This Darwinian pragmatism – in its extreme form, social Darwinism – results in corruption, bribery, dog meat sellers, poor business practices, and food scandals, to name a few. Only the fit, the beautiful, the intelligent, the industrious, the innovative, and the rich can scale their way to the top.
In contrast, Rose Tico’s statement on freeing the animals, which was something like, “NOW it’s worth it!”, in the context of the film is unfortunate to say the least. The real reason she came to Canto Bight was to save her friends, which she fails to do, ultimately becoming a useless character in the big picture. Did Hollywood think that an incompetent, pointless character who was also overly sentimental was going to cut it in China? See, I know that Chinese people love their families, their pets (especially dogs), and their country. However, while Chinese people are warm-hearted, generous, and hospitable, sentimentalism that comes at the cost of life just doesn’t cut it.
Finally, in regards to the Canto Bight sequences, Rose’s behavior displays the unconscious hypocrisy of Hollywood and Disney. These two American interests, while decrying the lifestyle and exploitative behavior of the rich, pursue China’s growing consumer base in an effort to line its own pockets. How…. ironic.
Onward to the Crait scenes. On the battlefield, Rose interferes with Finn’s decision to sacrifice himself and tells Finn that she is saving him, as though saving one at the cost of the many is a realistically heroic thing to achieve. I am sure the subconscious utilitarians in the audience rolled their eyes during this scene. Interpretations and critique here may change from person to person, depending on individual beliefs about ethics, faith, and duty, but Rose’s words felt asinine.
We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!
Considering the mythical and historical inheritance of Star Wars, it is clear that the initial readings of Star Wars follows strict lines of social good and evil regardless of how nebulous the Force might be. The Rebels are the Allies who won World War II, and the Empire are essentially space Nazis (a theme elaborated on in detail in the Legacy books). In the context of this universe then, Rose’s statement is confused and over-idealistic about evil at best. I will elaborate.
“…fighting what we hate…” This assumes that fighting only happens because of hate. There are other reasons to fight – necessity and love. The reason for Luke attacking his father in Return of the Jedi is because he wanted to protect Leia. In a similar way, given the choice, Chinese people, like most realistic folk around the world do not seek violence, but neither will they shy away from doing what is necessary in order to protect the ones they love.
“…saving what we love…” This assumes an idealistic, hyper-compassionate, social justice moral high ground where saving can happen without you being mean/”fighting”. Rose’s statement infers that evil isn’t that big of a deal, and one does not require terminal force, much less thought, to overcome the dark forces of reality. We just need love. A well-meaning sentiment, but sappy at best – dangerously unrealistic at worst. In terms of the Star Wars-verse, Rose’s outlook does not fit in the slightest. In the films and later Legacy books during story lines including Darth Vader and Kyp Durron, Luke shows mercy and restraint, but when it comes to other malignant forces at work, Luke is more than willing to show terminal force when required.
To sum up, Rose’s positions and dialogue choices are bound to annoy the more pragmatic, logical audiences in China. Her statements are on equal level with post-tragedy tweets – useless and meaningless. Why don’t you just let Finn get on with the business of saving those he loves, Rose? Why don’t you, Rose? [Rose needs to read Chapter 614 and 615 of Naruto, but that is a post for another time.]
Chinese Views on the Far Left
As I stated before, Chinese people can be some of the most generous, warm-hearted, passionate people on the planet. However, harsh reality sometimes demands they make less than compassionate choices. Furthermore, like most humans on the planet, Chinese people access the evolutionary, commonsense instinct for self-preservation, which can result in what appears to be xenophobic, prejudiced, even racist positions. Looking at what used to be the cradle of Western civilization – Europe, Chinese people are taking note of what they DON’T want to see – unfettered immigration, inability to protect its original citizens from harm, and supporting Islam.
‘Baizuo’, representing this idea, was created as an insult. Kuora states:
First, the question should clarify what’s actually meant by baizuo (白左) in the Chinese context. The bai appears to come in part from baichi (白痴, a moron), and it’s meant in the same way as “libtard” is meant in the U.S. by certain conservatives. It doesn’t mean “white” (i.e., European or Euro-American) liberals. It means “Chinese people who have adopted the values of liberalism.” “Libtard” is probably a better translation than “white left.”
From a domestic perspective, the proliferation of anti-baizuo sentiment is clearly in line with the dominance of a kind of brutal, demoralized pragmatism in post-socialist China. Many of the attacks on the welfare state and the idea that states have obligations towards international refugees appeal to the same social Darwinist logic of ‘survival of the fittest’. It is assumed that individuals should take responsibility for their own misery, whether it is war or poverty, and should not be helped by others. The rationale goes hand in hand with the view that inequality is inevitable in a market-economy-cum-Hobbesian-society.
Some people would argue that social Darwinism is incorrect because the concept of survival-of-the-fittest does not refer to individualism but groups or kinship clans. Yet, the Chinese folks who coined ‘baizuo’ see China and the Chinese people as one clan, which must be protected against the excesses, indulgences, and concessions of the Far Left movements made apparent in Europe.
However, I am not going to discuss whether the validity of their criticism, but it is understandable to see how this can impact Chinese perception of The Last Jedi, where human lives are lost thanks to military prevarication, internal gender war politics, misused personal convictions, and unrealistic attraction.
Military prevarication. The continual chase, which the audience realizes could have been ended at any time by Holdo’s last move, is used only to extend the film’s play time. If it had been done right off the bat, less people might have had to die. The Chinese folk who may want to go enjoy a science-fantasy story like The Last Jedi either went there by accident or they are video game geeks or sci-fi nerds. The last two groups would not appreciate the stupidity of the military strategies used on both sides of the conflict.
Internal gender war politics. Thanks to the lack of adequate world-building and information as to how the Resistance/Rebellion works…
Oh… no… wait…
So we can guess how the Resistance usually runs their operations – in the usual open, if not democratic, way. In The Last Jedi, on the other hand, so as to make a point about male-female power dynamics, Poe loses his modicum of competency and transforms into a mouthy jerk. At the same time, Holdo becomes the female version of a despotic, patriarchal, military figure.
This style of leadership, more traditionally espoused by the Empire, feels like a betrayal of canon and in-universe logic/reality. This leads viewers to think that this character change was created in order to jump start the infamous useless secondary plot line, which has led most Chinese viewers to feel confused.
Misused personal convictions. It is safe to say that most people would agree that treating animals well is good and profiting off the deaths of people is bad. Jabba the Hutt and the Ewoks are subtle commentaries on themes such as the inevitable end of corruption and the important role the weak can play in overcoming the strong. Yet none of these scenes detracted from the meaningfulness of the overall story. Rose’s, Finn’s, and Poe’s – perhaps even Luke’s and Holdo’s – pursuit of their individual convictions did not bring order to the chaos or mean anything in terms of overcoming evil and chaos. These moments were specifically written to draw the support of specific individuals – not to create a meaningful story as a whole.
Unrealistic attraction. Rose’s attraction to Finn came out of nowhere – and destroys his chance to do something meaningful. This kind of romantic notion that you can fall in love with someone over the space of a day persists in Hollywood. Terrible. Lust, I get; love, no. Her act also endangers others lives as female emotion wins out – is even celebrated. Chinese folk love their romance and, like most folk around the globe, have their fair share of fateful and damaging romances… but the general response to Rose and Finn is lukewarm since it is forced.
Hopefully, this article helps elucidate the China and Star Wars situation, coming from someone who lived in China for an extended period of time. Star Wars has struggled in China to begin with because it was never properly released way back when A New Hope came out. However, the more recent releases did not do themselves any favors by allowing creators, production crew, producers, directors, and actors to make politically charged statements, by releasing films that don’t make sense, and by blatantly inserting political statements in its scripts. Chinese Mainland film expectations, nationalism, cultural beliefs, and political views impacted response to The Last Jedi, decreasing long-term box office numbers.
I recommend Hollywood and Disney check their hypocrisy and stop preaching at the people whose wallets they are currently wooing.
Star Wars and Historicity