Disney’s live-action “Mulan” film has become an unlikely battleground for the fight against Beijing’s authoritarian rule after its main star, China-born Crystal Liu Yifei, retweeted a Chinese propaganda post in support of the police crackdown on mass anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
On the Twitter-like Weibo social media platform, where Liu has nearly 66 million followers, the actress retweeted an image from the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, that reads “I support the Hong Kong police; you can beat me up now” in Chinese and “What a shame for Hong Kong” below in English. She also reiterated the campaign’s hashtag: “I also support the Hong Kong Police” with a heart and strong-arm emoji. The post has been liked 78,000 times since it went up yesterday and retweeted nearly 69,000 times. Most of the comments are just echoes of the same: “Love you, I also support them!”
The hashtag has been viewed 4.3 billion times.
On Tuesday, the UN Human Rights office accused the Hong Kong police of “employing less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards” and thereby “creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury” through common tactics such as the firing of tear gas or rubber bullets directly at individuals or into crowded, enclosed areas.
Although Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all blocked by China’s strict censorship regime, the platforms have all been inundated with calls to “#BoycottMulan.” Liu’s own Instagram comments have now become a showdown between pro-Beijing and pro-Hong Kong factions, a mess of Chinese and Hong Kong flag emojis where once only hearts and flowers proliferated.
One incensed fan there wrote, “Liu Yifei, you are the MULAN ACTRESS how come you support POLICE BRUTALITY IN HONG KONG, ESPECIALLY TOWARDS WOMEN?”
Another directed expletives at Disney for their casting choice, before telling Liu, “I’m Chinese by heritage, but I don’t associate with your fascist beliefs. Sorry you have a warped view of reality from consuming bulls— Chinese propaganda…. New York supports you Hong Kong.”
Beijing has launched a misinformation campaign about the protests at home that seeks to portray demonstrators as violent, paid agitators. But of course, not all those who express support for China’s stance on the protests are brainwashed or bamboozled. Countless Chinese citizens and celebs are extremely proud of their rising nation, and even those with access to information about both sides of the story can end up expressing little sympathy for the protestors.
Author Karoline Kan wrote in a recent op-ed that the phenomenon is due to “the increasing self-confidence of mainland Chinese who, more than 20 years after Hong Kong was returned to China, no longer feel like they stand in its shadow.”
With just 7-odd million residents to China’s 1.4 billion, Hong Kong is a drastically smaller market than the mainland, but those pushing for the boycott hope it will catch on internationally as the protesters seek global support and sympathy for their pro-democracy movement.
The language used in Liu’s post comes from the words of an undercover mainland reporter for a Chinese nationalist tabloid — the Global Times, sometimes referred to as China’s Fox News equivalent — who has been hailed as a national hero after he was roughed up by a group of protestors at an otherwise largely peaceful mass sit-in at Hong Kong’s international airport. Seized and beaten, the reporter was filmed yelling, “I support the Hong Kong police, you can hit me now,” before later being whipped away in an ambulance.
China’s state media is using the lines as a rallying cry, focusing on the incident as support for its narrative that the protestors are an out-of-control mob. Beijing has recently sharply escalated its language about the protests, on Wednesday referring to the airport protesters as guilty of “terrorist-like actions.”
China has stationed a large number of paramilitary troops just across the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen, which a recent video report from China’s state broadcaster says have the right to “participate in handling riots, severe violent crimes, terrorist attacks, and other incidents disturbing the social peace” — even in Hong Kong.
Superstar pop singer Lay Zhang Yixing, who rose to fame as the only Chinese member of the K-pop band Exo, posted the same People’s Daily image as Liu to his Instagram on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the People’s Daily continues to trumpet its message about Hong Kong multiple times a day on its official Weibo account, urging readers on Friday morning: “#Don’tBelieveThoseHongKongRumors, retweet the truth!”