A boycott is an organized campaign to starve a business of revenue in an attempt to influence how the business operates. As people in the U.S. recently learned (or were reminded) during the NBA strike in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a boycott is different from a strike, which is a refusal to work by employees as a strategy to pressure employers to meet certain demands. Both boycotts and strikes are important forms of organized political action. So what does this all have to do with Mulan, Disney’s new live-action adaptation of the Chinese legend? #BoycottMulan is an online campaign to, well, boycott Mulan. It started out as a response to social media comments Mulan star Liu Yifei made in support of the Hong Kong police in their (sometimes violent) suppression of pro-democracy protestors, and has grown into something even larger.
The Hong Kong Protests
Tensions between pro-democracy activists and the Beijing-backed Hong Kong police have been high since June of 2019 when the Hong Kong government proposed an extradition agreement that would have allowed those in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trials. Thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets in protest, worried that such an extradition agreement would allow the Chinese government to bypass Hong Kong’s independent legal system for their own (which doesn’t have judicial independence from the Communist Party), and as an encroachment on the semi-autonomy Hong Kong has. The extradition proposal has since been dropped, but, in April of 2020, many high-profile pro-democracy activists were arrested by Hong Kong police and, on June 30th, the Hong Kong government passed a national security law that, as the New York Times put it, “instantly altered the lives and liberties of Hong Kong’s residents, criminalizing words and images that just hours earlier had been legally protected free speech.” In its wake, some in Hong Kong are considering leaving their home for good.
The protests against the proposed extradition treaty and the national security law are part of a much larger, ongoing struggle that pro-democracy activists have been fighting since Hong Kong became a semi-autonomous region in China in 1997 following 99 years as a colony under British rule. Many in Hong Kong want an independent, democratic Hong Kong free of mainland Chinese rule—or, at the very least, wanted a preservation of the existing rights and liberties Hong Kong residents had prior to the implementation of the recent national security law. The passage of the law has, according to NYT, already led to businesses replacing pro-democracy messaging with Communist Party propaganda posters, the changing of textbooks to avoid the appearance of criticizing the Chinese government and/or to remove mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on democracy protesters, the removal of books from libraries, and 20 arrests.
What does it mean that Hong Kong is semi-autonomous? Since 1997, Hong Kong has been a “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic of China, with a “one country, two systems” agreement that gives Hong Kong residents the right to vote, as well as freedom of speech, press, and assembly. The agreement legally grants Hong Kong residents additional freedoms to the ones held in mainland China, where the legal system is often used to punish those who speak out against the state. (In theory, that shouldn’t happen in Hong Kong, though the new national security law actively threatens this freedom.) This “one country, two systems” arrangement is set to be in effect for 50 years, until 2047, at which time Hong Kong is to become fully part of China again.