If you’re willing to shell out 30 bucks at the behest of your kids, you can stream Disney’s remake of Mulan, its military fantasy based on a Chinese folk legend. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that it might offer a few hours of entertainment in which you can avoid dwelling on America’s current political crisis. These days, even Disney movies reveal the deepening divide between Americans that threatens to tear our country apart.
Disney has spent years affixing content warnings to old material, revising and remaking it to conform with contemporary racial and gender standards. Mulan seems like a perfect fit for this project—the headstrong young heroine who defies “traditional gender roles” to fight for her country (while wearing a binder, no less).
Except that the new version of the film, if you follow its logic, is so nakedly imperialist it would have made Napoleon blush. The behemoth military complex of the Chinese state is leveraged en masse to defeat an uprising of nomadic tribes whose territory was stolen a generation ago by the current emperor, now an old warlord who demands tribute in blood and treasure from the several diverse regions of his sprawling fiefdom. The independent nomadic powers are crushed and broken forever, but this time, their oppressor is a girlboss! Hooray!
This combination of woke social preaching and stunningly retrograde Chinese jingoism is a parable of Disney’s—and corporate America’s—current attitude toward global politics and commerce. A little sermonizing to advance the cultural revolution here at home, but nothing to unsettle the real money-makers abroad. Most of Hollywood’s movie revenue comes from foreign markets now, with China in the overwhelming lead. It must have particularly pleased Disney’s Chinese backers that Liu Yifei, the film’s leading lady, came out in support of the CCP police cracking down on Hong Kong. Meanwhile the movie itself was made in collaboration with propaganda departments from Xinjiang, site of the ongoing Uighur genocide.
(Note to Republicans: entertainment companies get a pretty good deal on their taxes what with all the money they rely on coming in from overseas. We suppose that’s because we used to think it was good for the world to see our movies. Is that still true? Would be a shame if someone proposed they need to pay a fairer share of their revenue to Uncle Sam….)
Everything you need to know about the deep rift in American society can be summed up in this way: Disney’s C-suite, who happily pander to the intellectual-property-stealing, Uighur-jailing, Communist Chinese state, had a hard time imagining that they could film in the American state of Georgia because of their law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Our ruling classes are so estranged from the country’s heartland, so hostile to the way of life practiced in rural America, that they find Chinese Communists easier to do business with than Georgian pro-lifers.
Democrat politicians like Michael Bloomberg and California Senator Dianne Feinstein go out of their way to praise China (it’s “growing into a respectable nation,” says Feinstein) while slandering their fellow Americans as systemic racists. Google will happily collaborate with China on an A.I. lab, but its employees can’t countenance the idea of making contracts with the U.S. government for the same work. This is more than hypocrisy: it’s an increasingly open, ideologically motivated preference for global audiences and cosmopolitan feudalism over the way ordinary Americans work and live. Concern for unborn children, devotion to American interests, and a commitment to equality under the law? Backwards, irrational, not to be tolerated. Tight state control of information, procreation, and religion? Promising, efficient, the future of the world. Got it?
China’s efforts to cultivate allies among the American upper crust are hardly clandestine. Feinstein’s entourage has included Chinese spies for years. She has hugely augmented her own unyielding power and her husband’s enormous fortune by courting Beijing. Bloomberg, too, is enmeshed with Chinese business interests to the tune of billions. On 65 university campuses, China’s government has funded “Confucius Institutes” for keeping tabs on international students and promoting Communist indoctrination.
It’s laughable that the American people are being asked to swallow tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories about Russian meddling in Trump’s favor when his opponents are so visibly susceptible to foreign control of a much more serious kind. It’s no secret whose side China is on in this election. And it’s becoming less of a secret every day whose side all our best-connected power brokers are on.
This election season is increasingly defined by a fundamental social conflict, not some procedural disagreement about how best to live up to American ideals. On one side are Americans who want to run their own country for their own good and their own preservation. On the other? Contemptuous oligarchs who prefer working with Chinese Communists to mingling with their fellow countrymen—who see the latter, and not the former, as the foreign enemy.
Turning back their influence is essential to keeping America American. While their propaganda can be ignored and countered with truth, concrete steps must be taken in the flesh-and-blood world. Spy networks must be rooted out. Technological collaborations compromising national security must end. Public figures speaking out against Chinese crimes should not be muzzled, online or off. Public officials bending over backwards to flatter Beijing should be shown the door.
The goal is not to lurch, as too many administrations of both parties have done in the past, toward war. It is not to indulge in a hollow rhetoric of toughness. The greatest threat to our form of government and our way of life is not China itself, but our own misbegotten self-styled mandarins—and the militant fantasies of purity and power playing out not only in their movies, but on our streets.