While America’s discussing the role of Asian-Americans in Hollywood, there comes along a Chinese Superman…
SHANGHAI – A “Chinese Superman” was announced. By Americans. By DC, the US brand behind the “Superman” franchise. If well-campaigned and aggressively promoted, a market of a hundred million potential zainans (Chinese nerds) awaits! In theory.
The new superman or “chaoren” (super-person) will be living in Shanghai. He is going to be a 17-years old teenager. His preliminary name is Kenang Kong. It is unclear whether the young Kong will project Chinese values onto the world or simply spread Americanism in China. “Kenang Kong” is already westernized: Normally, in East-Asia, the surnames precedes the name: So it actually says Kong Kenang in China. Which sounds total boss, no?
In case you wondered if this was a First, you may be surprised to find that legions of Asian superheroes in America already exist. It is just… not a level playing field for Orientals. Sad but true. Alas, Asian-Americans make up just a tiny minority or about 2%, of the US population. That said, Chinese-Americas are also among the most educated and high-earning minorities. That rich and influential groups (Jews, being a prime example) can assert over-proportional influence in the mass media is well recorded. What are waiting for! Jiayou!
The Give and Take of Empire
Why are most superheros, or should we say modern myths and fairy tales, all made in the U.S.A.? Well, to oversimplify the complex history: America for decades had scavenged Europe and Asia for inspirations (being the victor in two World Wars helped), with the result that “entertainment” became a US monopoly and global vocab.
The United States commercialized everything from Hellenic mythology, Roman and Celtic mythology, to English paganism. Especially the German and the Japanese cultures were sucked dry: their folklore and fairy tales quickly disenfranchised. Most Americans now believe that Santa Claus is American (he was Nikolas von Myra, a saint during the Roman Empire), that Snow White is Disney (it’s a Grimm’s fairy tale: Snewittchen), and that Transformers, a popular US toy franchise about shape-shifting robots, is not a rip-off from some Japanese mecha anime. Once repackaged and rebranded ‘Made in U.S.A.’, US corporations shipped their cultural products back to Europe and Asia for consumption. It’s a bit like cultural cannibalism.
The invention of ‘superheroes’, however, changed all that. Finally, America invented its own heroes, even mass-produced them. Civilization-wise, ‘superheros’ are part continuation of the European materialistic heritage where supernatural strength was often the results of external ‘gifts’ or ‘artifacts’ bestowed upon our heroes; and part science fiction. For example, Superman is from planet Krypton, and loses his superpowers on earth in the presence of Kryptonite. As a rough guide, the European materialistic heritage stands in contrast to the demigods and superhumans of the Ancient Greek and Hindu traditions, and the semi-spirits and superior persons of the Buddhist countries such as Japan.
The Racial Factor. Is it creative?
The “Chinese Superman” is a sinicized “Superman.” Fair enough. DC is playing it safe. Could it be mocked and ridiculed? Oh, absolutely! We’ve seen it before. Here’s some (unofficial) cameo of ‘Suppaman’ from Japan TV:
Or this badass Superman, also unofficial, from South Asia:
Moreover, the countless possibilities of Superman’s race have been explored in numerous works of ‘fan art’. Here’s a African-American Superman:
To be honest, the DC image of ‘Chinese Superman’ is NOT original at all. In fact, fans could create ‘Chinaman’ (my name for it) for years with the “Superhero Online Creator” sponsored by… wait for it… Marvel. Ta-TAH! “Marvel,” of course, being the competitor of DC. Both corporations evidently want to reserve all possible combinations of future ‘superhero’ looks, just in case of combatant copyright claims. Technically, a US trademark owns all races. Here’s an Asian-looking Hulk. I mean, why not:
Last word: For those who find the idea of racial “evolving” superheroes slightly off-putting, you are on the wrong side of history. It is a fact that even images of gods evolved during history. The image of Buddha, for example, changed in body fat, skin color, and facial features according to prevailing beauty standards and racial preferences from Thailand to Japan to Singapore. And yes, Buddha keeps getting bulkier in Europe. Here’s the academic research.
American corporate elites seem overtly protective and possessive about US trademarks and brands – that is: AFTER their fathers often “borrowed” their ideas from other civilizations of course. “Superman” can be a flying Bruce Lee, if that makes money. He will still be owned by DC.
Image source(s): Chinese Superman, DC Comics/Chinaman, via Marvel Superhero Creator Online