Why Can’t We Have A Captain China? Superhero Films and Their Chinese Audiences


Superhero films are a growing genre developed by Hollywood that has achieved global popularity. Among all currently released superhero films at the time of this paper being written, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) constitute the individual film series of Captain America as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe film plan. With the distinguishable characteristic of being more patriotic compared to other superheroes, Captain America still gained abundant overseas fans, including fans in China. This paper applies critical theories to analyzing the Captain America film series’ popularity among Chinese audiences. By utilizing Louis Althusser’s theoretical framework of Ideology, Repressive State Apparatus and Ideological State Apparatus, this paper analyzes the content of the Captain America film series to identify the distraction it provides for its Chinese audiences in consideration of Chinese audiences’ particular ideological context and cultural consumption environment. Regarding the Captain America film series as a mass-produced cultural product of Hollywood film industry, this paper also takes the lens of Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s critical approach into culture industry to discuss whether the distractions offered by the superhero films could perform as genuine ideological liberation for Chinese audiences.


A costume in blue and red – two representative colors of the United States — a shield with the star from the national flag, a living embodiment of the American Dream to fight for justice on the side of people, and the ultimately exaggerated power that enables him to triumph over his evil opponents whoever want to endanger people’s freedom and liberty, these all together constitute the patriotic heroic superhero figure on the big screen: Captain America. In the April of 2014, three years after the first film of this individual superhero series was released, the American superhero gained himself a high reputation from not only American people, but also wider global audiences.  

Hollywood’s superhero films always turn out to be worldwide blockbusters. Captain America: The First Avenger and its sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier are two of these box office hits. In 2014, Captain America: The Winter Soldier earned over $115 million in Chinese box office revenue, ranking seventh on the 2014 China Yearly Box Office Chart (Box Office Mojo, 2014). Captain America’s box office in China tops its overseas earnings with a 16.2% contribution to the total international revenue (Box Office Mojo, 2014).

Despite the considerable investment Marvel and other Hollywood studios have devoted to the production of these superhero films comprising of all-star casts, there must be other unique factors in these films appeal to overseas audiences, particularly Chinese audiences who share no pre-existing cultural recognition or fandom regarding the original superhero comics. In a widely-circulated film review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier written by a Chinese fan of the film, a sequence of questions are proposed, including why a character like Captain China does not exist and why the Chinese cultural industry cannot have its own superhero film productions (Lu, 2014). For Chinese audiences who have been immersed in a dramatically different ideological system compared with the one these superheroes inhabit, these two Captain America films still seem to offer some distractions including a sense of relief from reality.

Captain America:

On His Way from Fighting in WWII to Saving the Universal Humanity

Superhero originated as a comic book genre in the 1930s, situating itself in the historical context of the World War. The contents and storylines of these superhero comics constantly change or evolve to reflect historical or social events including Vietnam War, the Iraq War and the 9/11 Terrorist Attack. Dittmer states in his book Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero that “superheroes are co-constitutive elements of both American identity and the U.S. government’s foreign policy practices” (Dittmer, 2012, 3).

The Captain America film series is a significant part of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe film production plan. Captain America, taking the leading role of the Avengers, is the only superhero that has a personal record of being recruited into the army and serving the state power demonstrated to the audiences. Even though some of Captain America’s character settings get slightly rearranged in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marcotte argues that the portrayal of Captain America in the film series hasn’t been tremendously changed, if compared with the original one in the comics, instead being consistent with it. She states that Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, in the cinematic portrayal is unmistakably liberal: an anti-racist and a man who believes that the best patriot is one who questions his government instead of blindly follows orders (Marcotte, 2015).

Captain America: The First Avenger, released in 2011, sets its storyline in WWII. In this film, audiences witness the superhero’s transformation. Steve Rogers begins as slight man having a strong mentally commitment to serving his country and fighting against the evil forces oppressing humanity, while being physically inadequate to turn those aspirations into reality. He is then transformed into a super soldier after becoming a subject in a risky experiment with the determination to become the supreme sacrifice of his country in the battlefield. During the wartime, Captain America dedicates himself to the army, a place where the pervasive American ideology was uprightly and indubitably erected – fighting not only for national sovereignty and international justice but also for the freedom of each individual and imposing sanctions on whoever violate the foregoing advocacy. According to Marcotte, this first film of the Captain America individual series is “an allegory about how strength is useless without the liberal value of protecting the vulnerable behind it” (Marcotte, 2015).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, released in 2014, continues the narrative of a patriotic superhero’s modern-day life after 70 years’ of dormancy in ice. In this film, Captain America, a well-trained soldier who is portrayed to be physically and morally superior to many of his friends and enemies, begins to work together with Natasha Romanova, also known as Black Widow, as agents executing missions for the government espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D (short for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division). No longer burdening the commitment to preserving “truth and justice” nor being the apologist of nationalism, Captain America feels at loss in his new role under the undated social order. WWII already ended, yet the current government and its armed forces that are designated to protect the freedom and security of its people, seem to lack transparency and integrity.

How Do Chinese Audiences Resonate with Captain America’s Experience?

Portrayal of Repressive State Apparatuses and Ideological State Apparatuses in Captain America: The First Avenger

Defined by Marxist scholar Louis Althusser, Repressive State Apparatuses (hereafter RSAs), mainly as the military, the government and the police force, as well as Ideology State Apparatuses (hereafter ISAs), including school, church, family and media, are implemented by the State power to ensure that the mass obey the ruling class (Althusser 1971, 143). Although in the fictional world of superheroes, there exist the RSAs and ISAs resembling those of reality, most superheroes somehow manage to escape from their ultimate control. Even though some heroes choose to cooperate with or temporarily work for government-initiated organizations or agencies, they don’t depend on the State power or let the State power exploit their powers. Instead they autonomously employ their power to preserve the rights and interests of the people.

Most superheroes presented in either comics or films play roles as incarnations of justice and truth, even though some of these superhero characters do have a darker side or endured painful situations before they are endowed with superpowers. In Captain America’s case, both of his parents died because of war and he himself also suffered from physical defects, which diminished his capability of becoming a soldier to serve his country. However, these superheroes never seem to be extremely constrained by different State apparatuses in their personal lives, nonetheless choose to take fighting against repression with their superpowers.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, before his transformation into a super soldier, Steve Rogers was a short and emaciated young man who longed to be recruited by the army, but he was rejected due to his unsuitable physical state. Through the cinematic lens, we see that the army was largely advertised and advocated in many different forms. During wartime, the State, representing the dominant class, has a primary goal to persuade young people, as exploited labor, to join the army in the name of protecting their homeland. The ruling class, therefore, deploys all means of ISA to strip the labor of its autonomy.

In the scenes presented in the film, the U.S. government utilizes different communication channels to convey messages to young people whom they target for recruitment. Examples in the first film include the conscription advertisement incorporated in a film screening which Steve Rogers goes to with his friend Bucky Barnes and the poster portraying Uncle Sam saying “We want you ” which also distracts him from the show at the World Exposition of Tomorrow. As portrayed in the film, the RSAs and ISAs intertwine together to push the subordinate class to passively accept social orders mandated by the ruling class. Initially, Steve Rogers is significantly influenced by the propaganda and is determined to devote himself to his country. He then encounters Dr. Abraham, who is in charge of developing the Super Soldier serum and highly appreciates Steve Rogers’ ambition and determination. Regardless of his physical limitations, Dr. Abraham recruits Steve Rogers for the Super Soldier project. Because of this unexpected opportunity, Steve Rogers’ life later proceeds in a fashion he did not expect, which somehow stimulates his eventual disobedience to the ruling ideological doctrine. His later accumulated questioning and disobeying of governmental control can also find its primary manifestation in Steve Rogers’ answers to Dr. Abraham’s question “Do you want to kill Nazis?”. He replies, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they are from.” This response implies that Steve Rogers’ impulse for joining the army is indeed driven by his intention to protect the world from people who would infringe on its freedom and integrity, no matter where these people situate, in bureaucracy or among civilians.

Though his physical attributes are enhanced drastically, Steve Rogers’ motivation for fighting against the bullies remains the same, only with his targets changing from street rowdies to Nazis. However, he finds himself facing a situation of either remaining as an experimental subject in a lab or becoming an actor in propaganda advertisement or performances to sell national bonds or recruit more soldiers. In another scene, Agent Peggy Carter, who used to be his ranking officer in the new recruits training camp, reminds him that his mission as a Super Solider is more than being a puppet manipulated by propaganda. Rogers shares her vision, but is hindered by his fear of breaking down the repression imposed on him by the State apparatuses, particularly the ideological ones. Eventually, he persuades himself to follow his initial determination to join the battlefront at a point when he hears about his best friend died in a battle fighting against the Nazis. By conducing this act, he regains his ideological autonomy instead of restraining his ambition with the obligations that was assigned to him by the authority.

Captain America’s final enlightenment in this first film helps the character to accomplish his transformation from one who perceives the repression of the dominant RSAs and ISAs but sustains them without challenging to becoming a real “superhero” who realizes the exploitative nature of all RSAs and ISAs. Captain America’s experience in the army arouses his awareness of the fact that State apparatuses only protect the will of the ruling class. RSAs and ISAs are taken as tools to enforce oppression on the subordinate class by exploiting their labor force to maximize the interests of the ruling class.

A patriotic hero in a time of war is nothing unfamiliar to Chinese audiences. As presented in the film, exploitation assisted by RSAs and ISAs provides an illusion that the upper class is caring for everyone’s best interests. This resonates with what Chinese audiences themselves experience in their everyday lives. Moreover, Captain America distinguishes himself from all other heroic figures portrayed in Chinese films by realizing the repression and finally choosing to believe in himself – the incarnation of truth and justice. Chinese heroes in wartime, having their images presented in cinemas, would neither cast doubt on their commander’s orders nor show rebellion in executing missions assigned to them by superiors. They render absolute obedience to prevailing ideology and become to advocate and practice that ideological doctrine in person.

Captain America, Can You Also Be Our Hero?

Redemption for Chinese Audiences in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The main scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) are designed to take place in Washington, D.C., the capital city of Unite States. From the very first shot, audiences are treated to a montage of American nationalism, having an overlook of the architecture in the capital city. These buildings include the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol Hill. The Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial can be recognized as the symbols of Ideology State Apparatus, based on their functions as memorials of two important American politicians, while the Capitol Hill embodies the government, which according to Althusser is a form of Repressive State Apparatus.

There are also other scenes in the film that directly or indirectly reveal Captain America and his sidekicks antagonizing the government and the police (the RSAs). In one scene, Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D, is chased by attackers riding police cars on the streets in Washington. Though audiences, at their first glances, might think these are “bad guys” dressed up as police to confuse people, as the film continues, it appears that those are real police forces. These regulation enforcement agencies accomplish any mission assigned by whoever obtains political and military dominance. In many occasions, those who disguise themselves in government institutions in order to attain their objectives of subverting the State power from inside can utilize the State apparatuses as well. This is an extremely critical portrayal of RSAs like the police and other institutions functioning by violence. They execute discipline and punishment on anyone who stands opposite to the interests of the reigning group, without caring about truth or justice.

Though the State power in this film is somehow encroached upon by the actual evil force “Hydra”, which originated from a science department serving the Nazis in WWII, for civilians outside of the bureaucratic system, it still functions with ostensible police, government and other State apparatuses. Captain America, by revealing his own doubts and suspicious about the integrity of these government agencies, can be seen as a super authority representing people’s will and a strong challenge to all these repressive forces.

In another scene, Captain America has a debate with Nick Fury about what should be the next step to take down Hydra who has already perpetuated themselves for a long time in government institutions that are essentially established to fight against them. Fury thinks they only need to defeat the exposed Hydra people, however Captain America points out decisively, “We are going to take down S.H.I.E.L.D”. Captain America bases his argument on the fact that someone who secretly serves Hydra for a long time has usurped S.H.I.E.L.D’s autonomy and its original functions have already been distortedly and illicitly played.   

All the fighting and clashing scenes centering on Captain America and his opponents take place in the urban area of Washington, D.C., more specifically in or around architecture that can be identified as government buildings. None of these buildings, which symbolize the State power, get destroyed in the film. Yet for Chinese audiences, the experience of seeing a superhero that stands for absolute justice and courageously fights against people dressed in government uniforms or corrupted politicians who manipulate the State power for their ill sake is unconventional and engaging. Besides, having these scenes take place inside of government institutions or in metropolitan public space could be another touch point for Chinese audiences, since they will never have a chance to see similar arrangements in their domestic film productions.

This second film in the Captain America individual series resonates with Chinese audiences’ long-time repression originating from their own ideological system. The film keeps Captain America’s fundamental patriotism intact, while distinguishing his patriotism with nationalism. Captain America’ s conflict with his opponents is modernized under much more complicated power relations, putting him against enemies burrowing deep in the government he serves. “The new villain is the very country he loves and protects,” writes one Douban (China’s major social site of film fans) reviewer after watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Lu, 2014). The portrayal of Captain America in this film confirms that “to love one’s country isn’t the same as loving one’s government” (Brown, 2015).

In all mainstream Chinese films that depict stories happening in the modern time or in the future, it is almost impossible to see the government and other forms of State apparatus being demonstrated as being less than upright or their buildings being damaged. These cinematic fictions would not pass the censorship rendered by another Ideological State Apparatus, the Communication, in China. According to an answer to the question “What are the best examples of Chinese science fiction films?” on Quora, “in order to pass the censorship, we can not ruin the city and show the government is useless in Chinese science fiction films” (Quora Answers, 2014). It is even more difficult to make a science fiction film in Chinese political and cultural context, because there are so many restraining lines. The oppression of the RSAs – functioning by violence, together with the oppression of the ISAs – functioning by ideology have ultimately restrained the development of this film genre.

Most Chinese audiences find that films tackling such themes could never be produced under the watchful eyes of China’s “image-conscious” government and its army of censors. In a film review posing the question “Why we can’t have a Captain China?”, the writer argues that neither scenes of those iconic buildings associated with government being damaged could be deployed in films, nor would it be necessary to have someone identified as a superhero save people under the protection of China’s current government (Brown, 2015). “The best a Captain China could hope for”, the writer sarcastically retorts, “would be a job as a Beijing policeman” (Brown, 2015).

Also in this film, for a killing machine like the Winter Soldier, missions including exterminating other human beings are simplified into an “assignment”. Alexander Pierce who gives him orders does not want him to think about why these missions should be carried out. Pierce, the “bad guy”, reprimands the Winter Soldier for showing hesitation in fighting against Captain America in one scene, claiming that “Your work has been a gift to human kind. You shaped the century and you need to do it one more time. Society is of a tipping point between ordered and chaos…And Hydra can give the world the freedom it deserves.” The word choice of this core member of Hydra, who has hidden himself in a state department for an extended time, in this conversation is considerably eloquent. Pierce describes the world with superheroes like Captain America, who constantly challenge Hydra’s ambitious global power-seizing plan, as chaotic. In contrary to that, he describes his idealized world, which would be under brutal and extreme control of all RSAs, as ordered.

According to Althusser’s generalization of “Marxist theory of the State”, the Marxist classics state that the existing bourgeois State apparatus could be destroyed by the proletariat. The proletariat can seize the State power and replace the old State apparatus with the “a quite different, proletarian, State apparatus” (Althusser 1971, 141). As loudly proclaimed, the founding of the People’s Republic of China should have witnessed the proletarian ideology, proletarian academic work, and proletarian literature and art entering the field of culture on a broader scale. (“Renmin Ribao” Editorial, 1966) That is to say, the dominant ideology in China has already been the proletarian ideology, dramatically differing from the bourgeois one and supposed to be more liberating than the bourgeois one.

In China, “ordered” is an especially highlighted word used to describe its idealized social condition. The dominant class normally establishes a certain set of social order to rule the subordinate. In China, where the State power is supposed to have already been successfully seized by the proletariat and the State apparatus has already been replaced by “a different, proletarian, State apparatus”, people inhabiting this new set of State apparatus still seem to be attracted to the plots in which the capitalist State apparatuses get challenged. However, from watching Captain America films, Chinese audiences are not pleased with a feeling of realizing the superiority of their own new set of State apparatus and instead describe that their pleasure and sense of liberation actually come from seeing the possibility of government buildings being destroyed and police forces playing the bad roles and punished by the superheroes who stand for “truth, justice and the American way” (Lawrence & Jewett 2002, 34).

The paradox comes when Chinese audiences describe they are attracted to the Captain America film series and other superhero films as they would never see the government buildings or the governmental armed forces get damaged or challenged in any Chinese-produced fictional films. They would also never see any superhero figure be created by their domestic culture industry that could exceed the power of the military forces and legal-enforcement institutions like the police. When enjoying Captain America righteously telling Director Fury that they should take down S.H.I.E.L.D, Chinese audiences embrace distractions from the repression that comes from their own repressive and ideological State apparatuses. In this regard, the “quite different State Apparatus” of the proletarian State, at least in its particular form existing in the Chinese society, has no big difference with its bourgeois counterpart in function – still perpetuate great repression addressing people in either violent form or ideological form.

What Makes Chinese Audiences Want A Captain China?

Hollywood, the Overreaching Culture Industry

Hollywood, according to Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, is one of the most representative embodiments of the culture industry, which indicates the subtlest ideological repression addressing the subordinate class in the capitalist society. Massive consumers are obsessed by the entertainment offered by films, TV programs, and celebrities, thus becoming the forever labors who have to exchange labor force for commodities in the world of production and consumption. However, with the globalized marketing and distribution of Hollywood films including these superhero films, the target audience group of these cultural commodities has been enlarged. Especially for those audiences in China, this culture industry dwelling in a capitalist society still has great influence on them regardless of the barrier manifesting between two different ideological systems.

The Captain America film series and other films belonging to the superhero genre nurture a number of internalized paradoxes. First of all, the superhero genre, constantly lauding liberation and freedom, is adapted to cinematic productions by Hollywood, the mainstream trendsetter who profits from people’s addictive consumption of industrialized culture productions. Moreover, the character Captain America himself also has been transformed from the role model of every soldier and patriots to a modern day moral supervisor overriding institutional regulations and people in power.

Some audiences of these Captain America films are impressed by the scenes in which Captain America fights against the oppressive evil forces and are distracted from their real-life sufferings by sitting in front of a big screen and indulging themselves in these fictional plots and images. However, the money they pay for these films, together with the limited amount of time they could escape from the reality and enter this desirable world reminds them of the truth that the world Captain America inhabits is just a fictional one, even though it shares numerous similarities with the real one. The Jefferson memorial, Capitol Hill, and the Washington Monument are all intentionally planted in the scenes only because those who produce these films deliberately want their audiences to be confused with the hybrid of the palpable reality and the sheer fabrication.

One of the biggest features in the superhero genre is that most scenes and plots are designed in a way that superheroes protect people from all other forces who try to oppress the humanity in non-fictional cities that the audiences are familiar with. In the mechanical duplication, scenes take place on recognizable streets or identifiable buildings with normal people who look just like the audiences themselves passing by, therefore real life is indistinguishable from that in these films (Adorno & Horkneimer 2002, 99). For their domestic audiences, these films directly offer the illusion of a modified reality. While for their international audiences, especially those who live in a country like China, where the governmental and ideological totality is extremely different, the fictional world superheroes reside in becomes the idealized America in their impressions. Chinese scholar Jiang generalizes the main selling points of superhero films to their Chinese audiences as “strong imprints of high technology and romantic individualism” and rendering superheroes as essential elements of American everyday life (Jiang, 2010).

With this genre’s huge domestic popularity gained in American people’s overall cultural consumption, superheroes gradually find their ways to big screens, instead of only staying in printed graphics. It is also cinema that offers superheroes much vitality. “The superhero is the current golden boy of Hollywood”, as according to Coogan who examines this specific genre’s origins and later expanding into all dimensions of culture industry (Coogan 2006, 1). He points out that technology plays an important role in the process of superhero films becoming global blockbusters. The sophisticated computer-generated cinematic images make superheroes’ fights with rivalries and the effects of their superpower look realistic and seamlessly integrated (Coogan 2006, 2). Not only local audiences are paying for the technological sparks in superhero films, overseas audiences are also fascinated with the high quality of these film productions.  

The storylines of the Captain America films, in which Captain America is always busy with redeeming the freedom and safety of humanity, and those spectacular wrestling scenes of him triumphing over his opponents jointly create illusory satisfaction for the audiences. Yet the moment they get out of the cinema or leave the illusory world only existing in the screen, they are brimming with intense feelings of emptiness by discovering that they will never meet superheroes on local streets or in any foreign countries – people still need to endure the suffocating reality.

Through creating these heroic figures, promises are made by Hollywood to their global audiences: someone among the crowd is also suffering and one day he/she will be endowed with superpower to save us all, or everyone who is watching these films has the possibility of becoming a superhero in the future and will eliminate everyone’s current struggles with repression. However, these seemingly fascinating promises are merely just mythologies Hollywood creates for their audiences. With exploiting people’s fantasies of saviors and developing related plots for superhero films, Hollywood, the culture industry, draws on the “pleasure that is endlessly prolonged” to generate profits for itself (Adorno & Hokeimer 2002, 111).

This whole superhero genre is adopted, utilized, and illuminated by Hollywood into something that could be massively produced and controlled. Creating heroic figures is consistently among one of the main characteristics of Hollywood films (Debrieux 2014, 22). Hollywood tries to sell the idea of a hero first to domestic audiences then to a wider range of global audiences. Nevertheless, the Hollywood hero is indeed the representative of how America views itself as a “bold, dynamic, morally good” protector of the rest of the world (Debrieux 2014, 24).

Can a Capitalist Superhero Become a True Savior for His Socialist Fans?

Will superheroes from the cinematic world become true protectors of all people in this world, regardless of race and nationality, one day in real life? Even with technology advancements happening in every single second, it is impossible to give the superhero fans a confirmed answer. What is more possible is that, with the growing popularity of Captain America films among Chinese audiences, Captain China or other superhero either claims himself/herself to be a Chinese or has an origin in China will be created by Hollywood. This is obviously more predictable since Adorno and Horkheimer summarizes that one of the biggest characteristics of this culture industry is that “the producers are experts”. They know the formula and they know that they can feed the consumers what they are comfortable with and they know how to follow the rules of the product (Adorno & Horkheimer 2002, 99). The relentless unity of the culture industry is evident in the abundance of superhero films released every year and the huge profits these blockbusters make for the various Hollywood studios.

As Chinese audiences may achieve the sense of liberation from watching Captain America, their real lives in which the repression of the existing Repressive State Apparatuses and Ideology State Apparatuses are never dismissed. The culture industry does not sublimate the reality; it only suppresses by presenting “fulfillment in its brokenness” (Adorno & Horkheimer 2002, 111). By repeatedly exhibiting the objects of desire, including superheroes like Captain America who stand out to fight for the people, the culture industry occupies people’s leisure time apart from working as well as their money accumulated by sacrificing their labor force. In this regard, it doesn’t matter whether it is the American audiences’ time being exploited or it is the Chinese audiences’ time being exploited. In a globalized circulation of capital and products, all kinds of material and cultural commodities are designed not only to satisfy consumers in capitalistic societies but also those in socialistic societies. Entertainment has been recognized as a kind of commodity that could be circulated across the national borders. In order to consume these cultural commodities, people have to devote themselves to being exploited in the perpetuating production and reproduction.

Whatever their nationalities are, these audiences have indulged themselves in a sequence of some seemingly different superhero films, which are all fundamentally standardized. The distraction and liberation they perceive in watching these superhero films as well as the fantasy they cultivate for having superheroes in real life performing justice are all purposely given to them by professional filmmakers. Behind the culture industry is an intangible hand called economy, which plays a crucial role in the capitalist ideology. The capitalist culture production calculates characters, castings and every single visual effect in order to maximize the international consumption of these superhero films.   

Based on the burgeoning current cultural consumption, no matter if it is a capitalist or a socialist society they inhabit, the mass audiences who paid for these superhero films become agents in these film studios’ successfully maximizing their profits with ambitious film series launching plans. Captain America is just another modern mythology finding his perfect place in Hollywood films. The only achievement the audiences make through watching these films is perceiving a temporary, however never-to-be-realized promise of liberation, which is also created under the ultimate control of the Ideology State Apparatus of Communication. The Chinese audiences are, to some extent, more pathetic because they suffer from multi-source repression, of both their own ideological system and Hollywood, the most mature culture industry.

Works Referenced

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus (Notes towards an Investigation)” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press. 1971.

Brown, Warner. “How Captain America Won over China.” Accessed December 20, 2015. http://theweek.com/articles/447806/how-captain-america-won-over-china.

Coogan, Peter. Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre. Austin, TX: Monkeybrain, 2006.

Debrieux, Mathilde. Hollywood liberalism: myth or reality? A study of the representation of race, gender and class in popular culture and its impact on the American society. Literature. 2014.

Dittmer, Jason. Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero: Metaphors, Narratives, and Geopolitics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2012.

Horkheimer, Max, Theodor W. Adorno, and Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Dialectic of enlightenment: Philosophical fragments. Stanford University Press, 2002.

Jiang, Haoshu. American superhero films under background of commerce and politics. Journal of Guizhou University, 2010

Marcotte, Amanda. “Sorry, Fox News: Captain America Has Long Been a Liberal, Anti-Nationalist Character.” Accessed December 21, 2015.


Renmin Ribao Editorial. “A New Stage in the Socialist Revolution in China. ” Peking Review, Volume 9, #30, July 22, 1966, pp. 11-12.

Lawrence, John Shelton and Jewett, Robert. The Myth of the American Superhero. First Printing edition. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002.

2 Replies to “Why Can’t We Have A Captain China? Superhero Films and Their Chinese Audiences”

  1. Ahmed Catal

    I’m not sure but from the article it sounds like this writer has never watched The Great Ming Dynasty. It was a series accounting for the decline of the Ming Dynasty one of China’s greatest later dynasties. In the series it showed heavy corruption in the government and the top brass’ lack of action even after the hero of the series brings it up to them.Chinese audiences don’t know about heroes that fight the government? Please.

    • Greg Buddy

      Absolutely! The only problem China has with superheroes is the fact that they are vigiantes that take the law into their own hands. Just like Hai Rui in your example he had to go through the proper channels to try and reach a solution. But in that series the main story was about the decline of the Ming Dynasty. Portraying the emperor as a lunatic and all the major cabinet members under him as corrupt made a case for why the government needs to stay strong. Hai Rui was just one person and he didn’t have the status in government to bring the corrupt to justice. Just like a real world ending to any superhero movie. No Batman or even Superman is going to be able to beat up the bad guys and not end up on the wrong side of the law. China’s just a little too logical for its own good in this case. Movies aren’t supposed to be realistic.

      Saying that though I just want to point out only America and maybe the UK have ever come up with a superhero. Think about it. America has the Marvel and DC. Where else do you find a single vigilante that works without the government to bring criminals to justice? Maybe the british Doctor Who?

      Let’s say it is a cultural thing. The west might have a Captain America that realizes “the repression and finally chooses to believe in himself – the incarnation of truth and justice” but they have a culture that has never touched the east. Don’t look at China only. Let’s look at Japan. Name one Japanese superhero. Exactly there are none. You might have had people talk about Goku or Sailor Moon. Neither of them are categorized as superheroes. Goku isn’t out to save anybody. In his original portrayal he only wants to find stronger opponents to fight. Sailor Moon might feel more like a superhero but she is categorized as a magical girl and it isn’t her chosen path to save humanity or bring criminals to justice. It is her responsibility to protect Earth from supernatural forces as a sailor scout. Close but not the same thing. Just like the Power Rangers. They are appointed by some higher power or higher calling to defend the earth from some threat. Once they defeat that threat permanently their responsibilities are fulfilled even if they continue to do good.

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