If you know nothing about China at all, one thing you might know is that China loves design, and function, and building Really Really Big Things Really Quickly. And then building a second one. And then a third one that’s even bigger, with extra columns and squiggly bits. And then keeping them forever until they’re held together with duct tape.
The other thing you probably know about China is that there are a lot of people.
So it shouldn’t have surprised you when, in Pacific Rim, the Chinese Crimson Typhoon, piloted by the adorable Wei triplets (played by Charles, Lance and Mark Luu), turned out to be one of the four remaining Jaegar.
[Please note that this post contains spoilers for Pacific Rim (and also vague spoilers for Iron Man 3)]
The Logistics of the Chinese Jaegar Program and China’s Role in the World of Jaegars and Kaiju
This construction work is not limited to building large things quickly. It extends to a massive scale, manufacturing product after product and having a massive impact on global movement of commodities and industrial components. Production and manufacturing in China covers a whole lot of areas relevant to Jaegars, including industrial production, electrical production, and electronics. Although in recent months there has been a slight dip in employment figures in this area, this is considered to be due to an increase in automation, which further supports the Jaegar production cause, at least in theories. Reverse engineering is also a significant element, the copying of what already exists until one cannot tell the difference. Fake Apple stores are perhaps the most well known in the West, Apple stores that are so convincing in appearance and behaviour and electronics that even the staff have no idea they are working in a fake. And in 2004, when NEC discovered there were NEC counterfeits coming out of China, investigations revealed the entire company had been copied – 50 factories across China and Taiwan, complete branding, corporate HQ, royalties, products in major stores, warranties and final products “of generally good quality”.
Deloitte tells me that in 2010, China contributed 20% of the global manufacturing total. Between 1980 and 2009, China went from 0.8% to 13.5%. A quote from Deloitte that sounds like a negative but I actually think contributes to my point: “Many Chinese products have low added value, a challenging position amid rising costs and a shrinking export market. In the current state of the global supply chain, China’s manufacturing industry mainly plays the role of “manufacturing, processing and assembly…” The report points out that China has poor logistics, marketing and sales channels. It’s not explicit, but the implication is for export, and that China still relies heavily on Japan, Europe and the USA for these and for upstream goods. Which goes perfectly, actually, with China being an essential part of Jaegar production and ultimately developing its own Jaegar program.
Chinese minerals are less plentiful than its human and natural resources, but it has been seeking to rectify it. China is one of Australia’s strongest trading partners in recent history, with hundreds of major projects and dual owned operations especially in the mining industry. Australia exports significant quantities of iron ore, coal, gold and crude petroleum to China every year, amongst everything else. This every else includes a whole lot of professionals – every Australian I met while I was living in Beijing was either an English teacher, a politician, or an engineer. The top imports from China to Australia are, tellingly for the logistics of building Jaegars, telecom equipment and computers.
China has a great desperate need to participate in the Jaegar program. I go into it a little in regards to Hong Kong a little later, but China has a huge inferiority complex in regards to its national borders. China was a whole lot of separate countries until it was unified in 221 BC by Emperor Qin, who was originally the king of Qin. He is known as the First Emperor, he built a lot of the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors are his guardians in death and he nationalised the road system. He is not really relevant overly to this post but I want to emphasise that he put a whole lot of effort and reform into combining China into one country, and nobody is letting go now. There is shame in failure is basically our cultural creed. It’s why Tibet is a huge deal, it’s why Xinjiang is a huge deal, and it’s why Hong Kong is a Really Fucking Big Deal. It’s the undercurrent to a lot of things, the concession and the Opium War and the Boxer Rebellion being a case of Those White Jerks, This Is Your Fault. It’s the undercurrent of China is the centre and the pinnacle of the world, the rest of you are all ghosts. It’s the core of the military programs and state control and every thing else, and it’s why when the Kaiju come China will grab onto what it can do and won’t ever let go.
China’s massive military and constructive complexes are often incredibly problematic, but combined with the Chinese historical love of building the biggest things ever (the Great Wall; the many fake mountains just for the hell of it, well actually for the feng shui of it but still), its giant population, its huge population in its massive coastline, its history of needing to maintain national integrity, and the fact that it’s already bringing in a lot of resources, means that China will be going for it so fucking hard.
The Illogical 暴風赤紅
It’s not that Crimson Typhoon isn’t the English translation I would have given of the Chinese Jaegar’s name (it isn’t, but it’s close enough that I’ll handwave). It’s not that it uses character combos with which I’m unfamiliar (Chinese names get esoteric, that’s totally legit). It’s a little bit that the name sounds like it was invented in English and translated into Chinese characters, rather than the other way around.
Mostly, it’s that the name is written in giant traditional characters, when it’s a Chinese craft. It’s a Chinese craft, presumably funded/governed/controlled by the Chinese government. The Chinese government has spent a lot of time and money on making sure that simplified characters are the characters that get used for everything. The likelihood of the Chinese Jaegar, something of pride and awesomeness and achievement, having its name in traditional characters, is completely laughable.
The movie itself is set in Hong Kong, where traditional characters are frequently found; and often very contemporarily used, sometimes because of habit and sometimes in an active eff you to the mainland government. However it is still a Chinese craft, and HK is part of China now, despite two systems one country, and with the potentially for active eff you at the government and the fact that Jaegar was almost certainly built on the mainland, there is no chance that thing is named 暴風赤紅 over 暴风赤红.
If you’re interested, 暴風 is really strong wind (force 11), and 赤紅 is kind of like crimson, I guess.
I wrote some more about names at Tumblr, and there’s a bit more in my next post (tomorrow, on Australia and the Jaegar Program).
The Colonialist Narrative: the Hannibal Chau Problem
Liz already mentioned in her overview post that Ron Perlman’s character, Hannibal Chau, was originally meant to be not a white dude, yet somehow, played here by Ron Perlman (a white dude). Whilst that on its own is sketchy, it is super sketchy in context. What we have here is a white man, taking on a Chinese name, running a crime syndicate based out of Hong Kong, specialising in the highly illegal bits of a rare animal, for hilarious medical purposes, because that’s what Chinese people love, you know? This is the most blatantly inappropriate colonialist narrative since Tom Cruise was in the Last Samurai, though I’m pretty sure the Wolverine movie is going to also hit this. Hong Kong, the symbol of China’s super embarrassing failure and capitulation to Western Imperialist forces (see: about 1000 words ago), brought back into China’s arms in 1997 with the end of the loan, is being slowly sucked back into being a part of China. This is for better or for worse and I am not at this juncture discussing the good and bad of it. It is a huge ongoing issue for China, and for Chinese people. China’s concessions to the West were in significant part due to the Opium War, which was a symptom of the forced trickle of opium into China that was a deliberate ploy by Western forces to open China up against its will. Hong Kong was a part of this. So now we have a white dude, taking on a Chinese name, supplying illegal products for what looks like Traditional Chinese Medicine to Chinese people through the port of Hong Kong, surrounded by nameless Chinese thugs. Good work, everybody! Super good work.
The Reflection of China in Current Movies
The increased ‘good guy’ role of China in particularly USA blockbuster movies is indicative of China’s changing role in the geopolitical situation. This is reflected often by small but not necessarily insignificant moments in movies such as Pacific Rim. I do not think it is insignificant, in a ‘right now we are in 2013’ sort of way, that one of the four remaining Jaegars is Chinese, that the movie is set in Hong Kong, that there are three super hot ethnically Chinese Jaegar Rangers wandering around in the background, that they are spoken of with admiration.
In years past China has played the role of unquestioning, unthinking bad guy in movies, aided by the USAmerican tendency towards ‘communist’ as shorthand for ‘evil, unthinking pod person’ (because socialism is a bad thing? Americans.).
This has changed recently, starting with the slow shift towards China as ally in movies, and moving towards dual cuts – Iron Man 3, for example, contained a full 4 minutes extra of Fan Bing Bing’s face and plotline in the Chinese cut. The Mandarin, the advertised baddie in Iron Man 3, had me flailing in rage months before the movie came out, and there is some speculation that the changes to the role and plot in that movie were intentional in courting mainland Chinese demographics. The Christian Bale ‘what these Chinese ladies need is a White Saviour’ movie the Flowers of War (金陵十三钗) was a movie that set about intentionally creating a favourable image of Chinese people for a Western audience, sometimes to the detriment of the Japanese characters. It is also a contentious piece of history between China and Japan, with Japan denying it was all that bad and China maintaining it was super bad. The choice to make this movie could be seen as declaring a side. Red Dawn was to originally feature Chinese villains, who in post-production were digitally replaced by North Korean soldiers (which some sources described as ‘unprecedented‘).
Not to get all ‘everything has happened before’ up in here, but changing movies in the changing geopolitical situation is not only necessary, it’s precedented:
The cinematic depiction of the Chinese has been correlated with US policy towards China, as well as the Western attitude towards the Asians. In the 1920s and the 1930s, the fears of Chinese expansion (immigration) in the United States, reinforced through the circulation of racist thoughts by some US newspapers, pulp magazines, and books, found their way to Hollywood through dozens of movies portraying Chinese as dirty, criminals and tyrants…As China turned into an ally in the 1940s, a more positive image of the Chinese was established. This shift was brief with the rise of Communist China…Hollywood went right back into attack mode.
(Hollywood’s Representations of the Sino-Tibetan Conflict: Politics, Culture and Globalization, Jenny George Daccache, Brandon Valeriano, 2012, Palgrave Macmillan)
These moves are a form of soft politics, a game at which China is incredibly adept. Soft politics forms an explicit part of China’s overall “Going Global” or “Going Out” (走出去战略) concept, and it’s not a surprise that movies is one area where they feel they can easily sway things.
In the real world, China is also a rapidly rising power. Aside from the need to capture the Chinese movie going public, is it really reasonable to posit a future where China isn’t making a significant contribution to whatever amazing world saving efforts the USA is making? In 2013, China owns just over $1.1 trillion (about 10%) of the USA’s world debt, they’re going to have to collect on that some day and it’s important to keep them on side. And when they’re providing more money, they’re gonna want their fingerprints all over everything, just to prove they’re the best again, that China will never again be bested by Western powers.
You know what I don’t have a problem with? USAmerican movies having to rethink how Chinese people are represented, beyond just stereotypes. And it’s wishful thinking, but maybe this will extend to actual consideration about how other groups are represented, too. And it’s more complicated than that, of course it is, but at least I have that, and maybe one day I won’t need to search so hard to find a representation of myself or my culture that rings at least a little bit true. (And also maybe we could see a bit more of the Luu triplets, I’m not gonna stop going on about that)
There’s so much more to say, but at 2000 words this is going to have to do.