“Mulan” Star Liu Yifei Just Can’t Make Everyone Happy

Liu Yifei is suddenly facing backlash for calling herself "Asian" instead of "Chinese"

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1:37 PM HKT, Mon March 30, 2020 2 mins read

Loyal, brave, and true” is Mulan’s motto. During Mulan’s red carpet premiere on March 9, Audrey Yap from Variety asked lead actress Liu Yifei what those words meant to her.

“Loyal, brave, true to her family, and also to her true self. I’m so proud to be an Asian and just knowing that if we think of something, we’re gonna have the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves and be the best,” Liu said.

Even though the premiere was weeks ago, her response just recently caught a foothold in China, generating backlash and accusations that Liu was trying to hide her cultural identity. The controversy comes not long after Liu caught flack with American fans for supporting the police during the Hong Kong protests.

Liu was born in Wuhan and grew up in America, where her mother had her naturalized as an American citizen. Most of her decades-long acting career has been in China. These comments also fit into a narrative of growing nationalism in China, with many trying to “catch” celebrities for having foreign nationality.

“Are you ashamed to admit that you’re of Chinese descent? I would like to advise Liu Yifei to stop coming here to China to make money,” one user posted.

“I can’t understand why she said such things […]she emigrated to America many years ago, but almost all of her career has been in China. Her behavior is ungrateful to her motherland,” another said.

Some users jumped in to defend Liu, saying that people were overreacting.

This isn’t the first time Liu’s created controversy. Last August, she shared an image from the People’s Daily to her 65 million followers on Weibo. It said, “I support Hong Kong’s police, you can beat me up now. What a shame for Hong Kong.”


Her pro-police stance sparked instant backlash from the public. #BoycottMulan spread on Twitter, urging people to avoid the film. Some users said Liu was supporting police brutality and suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. Others said it was hypocritical for her to be playing a character who stands up against oppression.

It’s clear that Mulan is trying to appeal to both American and Chinese audiences. The film’s producers made a point of committing to cultural authenticity, and most of the cast are veterans of China’s entertainment industry.


But Liu’s comments have only been a small part of the film’s criticisms and roadblocks. The trailer was called out for being historically inaccurate, throwing together a mishmash of Asian themes to appeal to Western audiences. Others were disappointed that Li Shang’s character was removed. Producer Jason Reed responded by explaining that a commanding officer also being a love interest felt inappropriate, especially in light of the #MeToo movement.

Now, Covid-19 has closed movie theaters across China, and there’s no word yet on when Chinese audiences will be able to see their own folk hero in action.

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