How China influences you and the world with pop culture

The debut of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was widely celebrated around the world not only for its success in full pandemic, but also for being the first major hero film starring an Asian — an achievement of representation comparable to what we saw with Black Panther years ago. And while this is an undeniable milestone, the arrival of the Kung-Fu Master and the entire eastern side of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a reflection of a much larger phenomenon that goes beyond the screens of cinema.

The hero translates well the cultural expansion of China around the world, something that has become quite recurrent in the entertainment world. Before Shang-Chi, animations such as On the Way to the Moon and Din and the Dragon Genius arrived on Netflix with super-production status, while games like Genshin Impact have turned out to be huge hits in the West — all of them bringing or representing the country in some way. .

New Marvel movie talks a lot about the Chinese influence in the world even outside the theaters (Image: Press Release/Marvel Studios)

But this is nothing new and neither is it a Chinese exclusivity. In fact, this cultural export is something quite common and a way for countries to demonstrate their strength and influence on the global stage. Just see how the American way of life is so common to us — even with most of us never having been to the United States — or how we have a vision of Japan as a country that unites tradition and modernity based solely on what anime and video games do. have passed us by for years.

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This is what international relations call soft power, that is, a smooth demonstration of a country’s influence, in which it shows its strength without having to enter the field of military force. “It is a strategy that a given country adopts to make its international insertion and to achieve certain goals”, explains Wilson Maske, PhD in History from the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) and professor of Contemporary History at PUCPR, in an interview with Canaltech. “It’s a softer, sweeter way to influence the world and change public opinion in the world. And financing and forwarding the theme of the cultural industry is one of those strategies.”

Basically, we are talking about the way a country presents itself to others, building an image in front of the world. As Maske details, there are different ways in which this can be done, either with the largest industrial presence in a certain region of a foreign country — as portrayed in the movie American Industry — offering opportunities exchange programs and even in sports. Just think about the perception we had of each country in the last Olympics based on their performance in different sports.

    Animation A Caminho da Lua brought much of Chinese mythology with a Disney costume (Image: Press Release/Netflix )

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However, entertainment is still the most common and efficient in this regard. “The cultural industry is a smart way to improve public opinion on a particular issue or country”, says the professor. “It’s something much more subtle than an advertisement, where you can have more resistance. When you see a good movie, it entertains you and you receive everything in a more positive way.”

It’s enough to see our relationship with American cinema. For decades we consumed not only the movies and series, but also the ideas and worldviews that these productions carried. We import a good part of the American way of life only from the things we see in the TV and cinema, in the same way that we face the world and its geopolitics from these perspectives.

This is because, as much as this influence is not always evident – or even deliberate – , she is there impacting us and shaping the way we see the United States or even its partners and rivals. “Have you ever seen an American film speak ill of the country? Or the defeats they had?” asks Maske.

The influence of the US in cinema is so great that, for many people, the country won the Vietnam War based on the that movies like Rambo showed (Image: Reproduction/Tri-Star Pictures)

Only that the soft power can also be used beyond political interests. As said, the idea is to transmit an image of a country to the rest of the world. Japanese animes and games, for example, contributed a lot to our vision of Japan as a place of very advanced technology where discipline and customs help make everything more efficient.

Something very similar is noticeable with South Korea, whose expansion of k-pop and series on Netflix — the so-called k-dramas — coincides with the increased presence of South Korean industry around the world. Just look at what Samsung has become over the last decade.

For Maske, China’s increased cultural participation is part of this “eastern invasion” that we’ve seen over the past few years 13 years old. “There is a whole generation that has a very positive view of eastern countries like Japan and China. They like things like comic books, martial arts and the food itself”, explains the professor, who points out that the modern character these productions carry has a strong appeal among younger audiences and helps to maintain their influence. countries in the West. “So much so that a discipline was created at the university just for the History of Contemporary Asia and students are hallucinated by it.”

Animes are still major elements of cultural influence in Japan for the construction of the image of a technologically advanced country (Image: Disclosure/Prime Video)

E , according to him, there are several reasons that help explain this interest — and that countries are knowing how to capitalize on it very well, while using it in favor of their own agendas. “There is the industry that produces this and wants to sell it, there is the country that is interested in this cultural industry to use as soft power and the consumer is interested in it all,” explains Maske. “It is important to emphasize that the public is not obliged to do anything. He consumes because he likes it. It’s a generational issue and today we have China moving towards doing what Japan has done before.”

The increasingly Chinese culture

So, it is possible to understand a little more why China’s presence in cultural products has increased in recent years. As stated, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is just the latest example of this demonstration of influence by what we consume for entertainment.

In 2020 , this was quite evident in the gaming world with Genshin Impact

. The game developed by Chinese studio miHoYo was a huge success around the world, with more than 55 million downloads between September 2016 and June 12174, according to data from the Statista. According to the page, in only 22 days since its release, the game had already raised US$ 100 million (BRL 100 millions in the current quote) in microtransactions, which shows well the noise he caused all over the world. In six months, it reached US$ 1 billion.

Genshin Impact’s success helped popularize China’s positive view of video games (Image: Disclosure/miHoYo)

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    And, among girls with elemental powers and magic swords, the game brings a huge cultural load of China and very positive representations of the country. One of the biggest and most important areas of the game is the nation of Liyue, which is nothing more than a more playful version of the country and which is portrayed as the most prosperous nation in the world by Genshin Impact while bringing magnificent landscapes and monuments.

    In cinema, this is not much different — although we still see few productions made in China breaking the bubble of Hollywood. So, what we have is another kind of approach, in which the influence of the eastern country happens in films and series made in the USA. The example of Shang-Chi is the clearest of all, but we also have it evident in the upcoming Pixar movie, Red: Growing up is a Beast, which will also focus its plot around Chinese culture.

    And if the almighty Disney has surrendered to this influence, it can only have a single one reason for all this: money. Although the idea of ​​what the soft power is might sound like a great plan of international cultural manipulation along the lines of what conspiracy theorists love, the truth is that we are talking about business and the cinema makes this very clear.

    You may have noticed that, for some time now, we have seen a greater participation of Chinese characters and nuclei in films and that the representation of the oriental villain has changed a lot from what we had years ago. Part of this is the fact that Hollywood has realized that the Chinese market is very profitable. After all, how to turn a blind eye to a country with a population of 1.4 billion people?

    So much so that China is already one of the great pillars of the global box office of any film. Of the nearly US$2.8 billion raised by Avengers: Ultimatum worldwide, US$ 918 millions were in the Asian country alone — that is, more than 30% of the total collected in all the planet.

    The big point is that the Chinese government is still quite restricted as to what can be displayed there. Thus, what the studios started to do was to give more prominence to the Chinese nuclei and characters and to be concerned with the speeches that their films were giving to avoid any type of censorship that would prevent their debut in Oriental cinemas. “We’ve seen a lot of movies where the villain was a Russian communist or a Mexican drug dealer. But I realize that, in the American film industry, this role of the Chinese villain is fading. But is it by chance?” asks Wilson Maske.

    China was responsible for 55% of the Avengers global box office: Ultimatum (Image: Disclosure/Marvel Studios)

    A very clear example of this is in the movie Doctor Strange

    , also from Marvel Studios. In the comics, the Supreme Mage is taken by Tibetan monks to the Elder, who will teach all the secrets of the mystical art. In the movie version, however, there is no mention of Tibet and Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is trained by an Elder far more androgynous than the Oriental figure in the comics. And while director Scott Derrickson said at the time that the idea was to avoid Asian stereotypes, the writers said the idea was to avoid problems with China because of the dispute the country has in the region with groups seeking independence from Tibet. . So, in order not to go against the Beijing government that prevented the premiere, this reference was removed and the feature raised US$ 109 millions over there.

    Another influence — and this time, more direct — on Hollywood is in the acquisition of studios by Chinese companies. Legendary Entertainment, responsible for films such as the recent Godzilla vs. Kong and the upcoming Dune, is the greatest example of this. The producer was acquired in 2016 by Wanda Group for US$ 3.5 billion.

    According to the professor at PUCPR, this is an increasingly common movement within the soft power from China not just in the United States, but all over the world. “The Chinese government started to finance entrepreneurs with government capital so that they could buy companies abroad, going beyond just doing their own – and Hollywood cinema is just one more of them”, explains Maske. Among the other acquisitions made by Chinese companies are also Cirque du Soleil and Riot Games, just to name two examples.

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What does China want with this?

As said, think about this influence of a country over the rest of the world sounds like something typical of a James Bond villain, but it’s a fairly common strategy in international politics. As Wilson Maske explains, these are moves made to achieve certain goals. But, in the Chinese case, which ones would they be?

Legendary Entertainment, by Godzilla vs. Kong, is controlled by a Chinese company since 2016 (Image: Disclosure/Warner Bros.)

For the teacher, this is much more related to an image construction for the world. “I interpret this as China’s strategy to guide the world towards a positive view of them,” says the expert. “In general, we don’t know much about them because the country is very closed. So this can be part of a diplomatic strategy to build a positive image of the country.”

In practical terms, this happens on several fronts. The first of these is directly economic. Similar to what we’ve seen with Japan and South Korea over time, where the image of a technologically advanced country has strengthened brands like Sony and Samsung on the global stage, we see an expansion of Chinese brands coinciding with the country’s increased presence in the field. of entertainment.

“In a way, a Chinese brand with a positive acceptance of efficiency, modernity and effectiveness is also a great soft power”, points out Maske. “A Chinese company that puts good products on the market will work in favor of this image that what is produced in the country is of quality, strengthening its industry.”

So much so that it is interesting to note how the growth of brands such as Xiaomi and Huawei it replaced the old image that had been had a few years ago that China was a producer of low-quality trinkets. The devices of these companies, powered by platforms such as AliExpress and Shopee, changed the way we started to see Chinese industrial production and we became much more open to these new developments. And the Shopee commercial with Jackie Chan pretty much sums up how this is all intertwined.

And of course this is very interesting for Beijing, because we’re talking about billions of dollars in imports of manufactured products with high added value, which is very positive for its economy. At the same time, the good reception also opens doors to new opportunities, as the discussion about the 5G auction in much of the world represents well.

Huawei is one of the main suppliers of technology around the world and many governments still resist accepting its entry into the communication infrastructure. And that’s where the influence from entertainment can become welcome. “In democracies, the public consumes these products and is influenced by them. And it is this same audience that influences their governments”, describes Maske. “By our way of seeing things, we will forward our vote and our political position, which will reflect on these representatives and on the decisions they will take. Thus, a positive view of China benefits them and increases their power on the global stage.”

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