The Stories Xi Tells

By: Chris Johnson

Hollywood has always loved Russian bad guys. From James Bond to Rambo, Rocky and Bullwinkle to Indiana Jones, Western ears have been trained to hear an Eastern European accent in a movie and assume they’ve met the villain.

Even in the time between the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Ukrainian whatever-this-is, the trope has carried on. We find it in more recent franchises like “The Equalizer,” the Marvel Universe, and “Taken.” These films have a Russian bad guy, but perhaps the most Russian fear-mongering film of all is the 1984 version of Red Dawn. Red Dawn imagined a Soviet invasion and occupation on United States soil, with high school students looking out their classroom windows to see a sky full of Russian paratroopers. Students from the high school escape to the hills and form a resistance group named after their football team, the Wolverines, making vigilante attacks and rescue missions into their own Colorado home town.

So, when Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Americans had no problem swallowing a narrative that Ukraine was just the first step in a newly-revived plot for Russian world domination. The Russians are always the bad guys in our stories.

But, just imagine if Russia had the capability, or the foresight, of blocking those movies from ever being made, or manipulating the studios into rewriting the villains as Germans, or Frenchmen.

That’s what China is doing, right now.

And actually, Red Dawn is again the perfect example of this, because in 2008 plans for its remake were announced. It was to be rewritten, set in the early 2000s, but who would the villains be? The Cold War was over, and the USSR collapsed. So, when the modern version was filmed, the invaders were Chinese. Yet, by the time the movie was actually released in 2012, it wasn’t the Chinese flag flying over the enemy occupiers’ camp, but that of North Korea. The film had been shot with Chinese villains, and then digitally altered in post-production to change flags and uniforms at the last minute.

The studio didn’t even try to hide their reasoning for the change. It was to avoid offending the Chinese government.

Hollywood movies are still a relatively novel form of entertainment for the Chinese. Our cinematic offerings have only been on Chinese silver screens since the death of Mao Zedong, and still only with tight controls. A 1994 agreement allowed ten foreign movies to enter the Chinese market per year. In 1999, that number rose to twenty, and the number now sits at 34 films per year. Even with those limitations, however, China’s 1.4 billion potential customers have made that country irresistible to Hollywood promoters.

However, while Chinese audiences love American movies, which movies they are allowed to see is up to the Chinese government. In order for American movie makers to get their slice of China’s $8 billion movie market, Chinese censors must approve the films’ content. What they’re particularly concerned with is how China is portrayed.

A documentary made by the Epoch Times’ Tiffany Meier illustrates how this leads to American movie makers censoring themselves to affirm the communist Chinese narrative, protect their reputation, and facilitate their vision for the future. Hollywood Takeover: China’s Control of the Film Industry follows former Hollywood executive Chris Fenton as he recalls his involvement with promoting American movies in China, particularly Iron Man 3.

One filmmaker interviewed in the documentary recalls being asked if they could change the bad guys in his movie to be Japanese. Why? Because the Chinese hate the Japanese. Meier’s film quotes a 1942 speech from the founder of the Chinese Communist Party, dictator Mao Zedong:

“’There is, in fact, no such thing as art for art’s sake… literature and art are subordinate to politics.’ He goes on to say, ‘Our aim is to ensure that revolutionary literature and art follow the correct path of development and provide better help to other revolutionary work in facilitating the overthrow of our national enemy…’”

That quote gives the historical CCP ideology, but the film also cites a Chinese military document which gives the current Chinese president’s beliefs: “’The battle for mind control happens on a smokeless battlefield. It happens inside the domain of ideology… whoever controls this battlefield can win hearts.’ The document goes on to quote Xi Jin Ping in one of his secret speeches, and in that secret speech, he said, ‘when it comes to combat in the ideology domain, we don’t have any room for compromise or retreat. We must achieve total victory.’”

China is waging a war on a battlefield that the United States largely doesn’t even know exists – and movies are just one example. The same tactics are used in social media apps and the business world. Our perception of the world is being shaped from Beijing, our affections manipulated in their interest.

Meanwhile, as author Eric Schwartzel tells it, in 2008, Chinese officials travelled to Los Angeles “to learn how the American film industry had achieved its status as the leader in global culture—and how China could re-create that achievement back home.” Fast forward sixteen years, and this headline appears in the New York Times: “Why China has lost interest in Hollywood Movies.” They can tell their own stories on screen now, and, like many Americans, they’re sick of having Hollywood’s twisted sense of morality pushed on them.

The irony is that in America’s efforts to sell capitalism to the communist country, all that’s been achieved is that America has become more communist.


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