Is Shang-Chi Losing His Chinese Identity Through Americanization?

Warning: contains spoilers for Shang-Chi #12!

Marvel’s Shang-Chi is the company’s most famous Chinese hero – but is he in danger of losing his Chinese identity after spending too long in America? The ‘Master of Kung-Fu’ and one of the deadliest hand-to-hand combatants in the Marvel Universe has made a name for himself fighting criminals, especially within the ranks of Shang-Chi’s father’s organization, the Five Weapons Society. But Shang-Chi #12 makes the case that Shang-Chi has forgotten his own identity, and it may have something to do with the gradual Americanization of the character over time.

Shang-Chi has a rather interesting and perhaps convoluted history within Marvel Comics. Shang-Chi (a name that translates from Mandarin into “rising spirit” or “ascending energy”) was initially conceived as the son of Fu Manchu. When Marvel lost the rights to use the character (and when public perception finally turned against outdated Chinese cultural stereotypes), Shang-Chi’s father was retconned into Zheng Zu, a conqueror with a criminal empire from which Shang-Chi ran away.


Related: The Avengers Have Officially Decided Whether Shang-Chi Is A Hero Or Not

In Shang-Chi #12, written by Gene Luen Yang with art by Marcus To, the titular hero has recently encountered the Ten Rings (stylized after the rings in the MCU film) in the mythical dimension of Ta Lo. The evil Chieftain Xin manages to take six rings, leaving Shang-Chi with the other four. The Jade Emperor himself appears before Shang-Chi and his siblings, and all of them bow respectfully – except Shang-Chi, causing him to receive a stern “You’ve lived among the Americans for too long, Shang! Bow!” from his sibling. While Esme stands as well, she believes she’s about to die. Shang-Chi has no such excuse.

The Jade Emperor is not simply a Marvel creation. In Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor (or 玉皇大帝, Yu Huang Da Di), is the supreme ruler of Heaven and in charge of all other heavenly beings, according to Daoist cosmology, While not a God in the Judeo-Christian sense, the Jade Emperor is certainly a figure with which all Chinese would be at least passingly familiar. Shang-Chi has indeed been defined by his American allies in recent years; he spent a great deal of time fighting alongside them (and fighting against them in Shang-Chi vs. the Marvel Universe).


Oddly enough, in Shang-Chi’s early comics origin, he spent most of his time not in America, but in England as a member of MI6. While modern versions of the character will often spend time in the US (as seen in the MCU iteration), the fact remains that Shang-Chi was born in Henan Province in China. The storyline of “good son fights against his evil father” might also carry – intentionally or otherwise – an anti-Communist and/or anti-Chinese message; the Cold War was in full swing in the 1970s and Shang-Chi was created by American writers, after all. Unfortunately Shang-Chi’s home country in the comics is associated more with his father than with him, a rather distressing sign that the character is still defined by outdated Western Chinese stereotypes.

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