To understand the controversy, we first need to review the plot of the Shang-qi comics and to learn a bit about Fu Manchu:
- In the original comic, Shang-qi was the son of the Chinese villain Zheng-Zhu (Fu Manchu was one of Zheng’s aliases in this comic). Since he was a child, Zheng has taught him that the westerners are evil and not to be trusted. Then, after learning about the evil deeds of his father from one of his father’s arch rivals, Shang-qi turned against his father.
- Fu Manchu was a character created by the Brit Sax Rohmer. According to the author, Fu Manchu was a cunning and malicious rogue agent of the Chinese government who had control of all the Chinese secret societies and stops at nothing to advance his goals of world domination (in short, the personification of the Yellow Peril and essentially an exotic Moriarty). This excerpt comes directly from one of the books in the series: “Imagine a person tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government—which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.”
So where does the controversy comes from? The first problem is that Shang-qi was convinced by a Westerner to turn against his Chinese father. Since the contemporary Chinese are well aware of the sinophobic sentiment among Chinese immigrants to the West and the inhabitants of HK & Taiwan, they can easily draw a parallel between Shang-Qi and the worst of the sinophobes in these communities.
To make this matter worse, the rising level of sinophobia in the West and the surging tide of nationalism in China means that the Chinese people are now far more sensitive to the perceived insults from the West than we used to be. In another word, while the character of Shang-qi was originally created as an “exotic Kung-Fu hero who was raised by an exotic villain but see the light in the end”, it is now perceived by the Chinese people as a “dumb muscle who was too stupid to understand he was brainwashed by his evil Chinese father, and had to be helped by a mighty whitey to see the light”. in short, the personification of internalized racism.
The second problem was the character of Fu Manchu. The name of this character is so synonymous with the concept of yellow peril that the mere mention of it can make a lot of Chinese see red. The less sensitive ones have noticed that a lot of his deeds are more anti-villainous (such as being a man of his word and working with the “Heroes” to defeat greater evils on several occasions), and therefore hailed him as an anti-villain or even anti-hero.
Neither of these groups takes it kindly that he was killed by Shang-qi in the comics. For the first group, the mere mention of Fu Manchu’s name is enough to incite rage, and for the second group, the plot comes across as the personification of internalized racism murdering a great anti-hero.
The third problem is about the appearance of both leads. While their appearances do not adhere to the Chinese beauty standards, the problem here is that both of them (particularly the female lead) have small and slanted eyes. Since slant-eyes is an extremely racist stereotype of Asians, Chinese people consider Marvel’s choice of leads as proofs of Marvel’s intention to advance this stereotype.