Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.
Simu Liu, star of Marvel’s new blockbuster “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” has enjoyed positive reviews around the world since the movie’s release, barring one notable exception: his birthplace.
In China, where he was born before moving to Canada as a child, he’s coming under fire for a 2017 interview in which he allegedly described the country his parents left in less than flattering terms. The video, originally published by the Canadian public broadcaster CBC, is no longer available on its website.
The comments resurfaced this week on the Chinese social media platform Weibo – and the backlash was swift.
“Is this the superiority of ‘high-class’ Chinese?” one comment read – a sarcastic term referring to Chinese people who leave the country to study or live abroad, similar in meaning to “whitewashed.” Other Weibo users threatened to report or boycott the movie if it was released in China.
CNN has reached out to Marvel’s parent company Disney for comment.
Liu is the latest celebrity of Chinese ancestry to be called out over comments perceived to be critical of the mainland. And the list is growing, reflecting increasing pressure on what the Chinese government calls “overseas Chinese.”
The term “overseas Chinese” has been widely used by Communist Party officials and state-run media in recent years to refer to foreign citizens or residents of Chinese descent – regardless of their nationality or how many generations of their family have lived overseas. Since President Xi Jinping took office, he has repeatedly asserted that overseas Chinese, too, belong to the nation – purposefully erasing the line between ethnicity and nationality.
In a 2017 speech, Xi pledged to “unite overseas Chinese” with their relatives in China “so that they can join our endeavors to revitalize the Chinese nation.” And last October, he “stressed uniting the vast number of overseas Chinese to realize the Chinese dream,” reported state-run news outlet Xinhua.
This, combined with surging nationalism and patriotic rhetoric in recent years, has placed heavy scrutiny on high-profile figures of Chinese descent, who are often branded by some in China as “disloyal” or “treacherous” if they criticize the country or its government.
For instance, when Beijing-born US-based filmmaker Chloe Zhao won an Oscar for her film “Nomadland” this spring, her victory was censored on Chinese social media and ignored by state media – all because, in a 2013 interview, she described the China of her childhood as a place “where there are lies everywhere.”
Though Zhao spoke proudly of her Chinese roots at the Oscars ceremony, she still faced attacks from online Chinese nationalists – illustrating the diminishing tolerance of criticism of China, especially for celebrities on the world stage.
The same tensions have also been highlighted in the controversy over dual citizenship. China does not officially recognize dual citizenship – but it had been loosely enforced in previous decades, especially as the country opened up and more Chinese nationals began going overseas for education or work.
Under Xi, however, the government has cracked down, encouraging the public to report people secretly holding two passports. Those caught can find their access to public services curtailed. Celebrities with two passports have also come under scrutiny from the Chinese public, with demands that they prove loyalty to the mainland – prompting many to publicly renounce their foreign citizenship.
Nicholas Tse, a Hong Kong actor who also holds a Canadian passport, said in an interview aired on state-run broadcaster CCTV last week that he was applying to renounce his Canadian citizenship. “Tse said he has a responsibility to spread Chinese culture and spirit to the world,” reported state-run nationalist tabloid the Global Times.
Arthur Chen Fei-yu, a Chinese-American actor born in the US, also renounced his American citizenship in July. In the announcement on Weibo, his studio said Chen “has always staunchly loved the great motherland,” complete with several emojis of the Chinese flag.
Increasingly, as political tensions rise and Xi steps up his nationalist campaign, people of Chinese descent around the world are forced to contend with questions of loyalty. This has been especially acute during the pandemic, during which racism and hate crimes against Asians have risen.
Never mind that many people of Chinese descent have rejected the term “overseas Chinese,” or pushed back at attempts by the Communist Party to claim ownership of Chinese identity.
For those in the public eye, however, declaring a side can have a huge impact on their careers and public image.
In 2020, China overtook the US to become the top movie market in the world, after years of rapid growth. It means celebrities with Chinese heritage have good reason to think twice before angering the nation’s public or government – one misplaced comment could spark boycotts or online attacks, and tank a star’s success in the country.
And it’s a weapon fans are willing to wield. After Liu’s comments resurfaced this week, one Weibo user commented, “Now they need Communist China to promote their movie and contribute to their box office? How ironic is that?”
But on the other hand, those who fully embrace China risk alienating fans in the West as US-China relations worsen – stringing a tightrope for ethnically Chinese stars that appears to be growing ever more narrow.
A ‘dining hall’ for elephants
When elephants keep breaking into your farm to steal your crops, there’s only one solution: build them a dining hall.
Authorities opened a 670,000 square meter (about 165.5-acre) “dining hall” for elephants in the city of Jinghong, in China’s Yunnan province, on Tuesday, according to Xinhua.
The food base, built in forested areas, is stocked with elephants’ favorite plants like reed leaves and bananas, as well as five salt pools. It took one million yuan (about $154,700) and five months to build.
“If elephants have ample food in their habitat, they are less likely to roam into villages or steal crops planted by local farmers,” said Zha Wei, of the Jinghong nature reserve management bureau, in the Xinhua report.
The problem of elephant-human conflict has steadily increased over the years, with regular reports of wild elephants damaging farmland – and sometimes even trying to break into people’s houses in search of food.
There are several reasons behind this: as human land use has expanded, elephants’ natural habitats have shrunk, leaving them with increasingly little space and food. It’s a particularly pressing problem for these massive creatures – adult elephants need about 200 kilograms (about 220 pounds) of food every day, Zha said.
At the same time, new regulatory protections have allowed the elephant population to grow, creating more hungry mouths. The number of wild Asian elephants in Jinghong was about 80 at the turn of the century – but has now increased to 185, Xinhua said.
If the “dining hall” succeeds in keeping wild elephants in forest areas, authorities will designate more areas for growing elephant-friendly plants, Xinhua reported.
Pic of the day
Tourists take photos at Universal Studios Beijing Resort on September 7, during the widely anticipated theme park’s soft opening. It has many of the popular attractions found at its counterparts in Singapore, Osaka, Los Angeles and Orlando – but there are some Universal firsts as well, including the Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness.
Soaring inflation and energy costs are forcing China to sell some of its precious oil supply
China is starting to sell off some of the oil it keeps in strategic reserve in a bid to lower prices in the market, a historic first for the world’s biggest importer of oil and its second-largest consumer.
The State Bureau of Grain and Material Reserves said late Thursday that it will release crude oil from its national reserve in batches. It intends to sell the oil to refining and petrochemical companies.
“Putting national reserve crude oil on the market through open auction sales will better stabilize the domestic market supply and demand and effectively guarantee national energy security,” the bureau said in a statement, adding that releasing oil would “ease the pressure of rising raw material prices for production companies.”
Oil prices fell to their lowest levels in two weeks on Thursday after China’s announcement. Brent, the global benchmark, fell 1.6%, while US oil dropped 1.7%. They recovered slightly, last trading at $71.85 and $68.45 per barrel, respectively.
The government didn’t say how much oil it would eventually sell, but hoarding barrels is critical for China. The country is heavily reliant on foreign oil to power its economy, and has been working for years to bolster its emergency stockpile of oil reserves.
But China’s economy is also contending with several headaches right now. Inflation is soaring, and the country’s producer price index hit a 13-year high last month, driven by rising commodity prices. Energy costs are also spiking, and demand is so high that some provinces have even experienced power shortages.
Despite Beijing’s efforts to contain soaring costs, factory inflation remains high. The government has warned high costs for raw materials such as energy and petrochemical products will exacerbate the tough conditions facing manufacturers – especially small and medium-sized businesses. Costs are also weighing on growth and employment.
Rising prices also complicate any effort the government may consider to prevent an economic slowdown with more fiscal and monetary support. For example, expansionary policy to bolster growth – such as increased government spending or expanded money supply – will only increase inflation further.
China’s economy has already been rattled by other issues, too, including an outbreak of the Delta coronavirus variant and the shipping crisis.
An official survey of manufacturing activity last month indicated the lowest rate of growth since the start of the pandemic, while a private survey showed the first contraction since April 2020. Services industries also suffered, with the official non-manufacturing survey registering the first contraction since February 2020.
– By Laura He
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