Shang-Chi and Diasporic Imagination of Ancestral Homeland


Illustration of the movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings. Photo: The Direct

“You are a product of all who came before you, the legacy of your family. You are your mother. And whether you like it or not, you are also your father.”

That’s roughly a snippet from the film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings which is strong enough to describe the diaspora theme raised in the film. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a superhero film released by Marvel Studios that tells the story of the life of Shang-Chi as one of the first superheroes of Asian descent. The film, starring Simu Liu and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, then managed to penetrate the domestic box office with sales reaching $206.69 million (Mendelson, Forbes, 2021). This film then received a lot of praise due to the representation of Asia on the Hollywood film screen. Nevertheless, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings presents so many stories that raise various problems of the Chinese diaspora in the United States. Furthermore, Shang-Chi also succeeded in reflecting how the diaspora community imagined their ancestral homeland.

Shang-Chi as Image of Chinese Diaspora

As we all know, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel Studio film that tells the story of a superhero of Asian descent on the Hollywood screen. Almost all of the main cast of this film also starred actors of Chinese descent. No wonder if we see that there are dialogues spoken in fluent Mandarin by the actors. Apart from being considered as a form of representation of the Asian diaspora, especially the Chinese in the western cinema, Shang-Chi actually also shows the presence of the Chinese diaspora in the multicultural society of the United States. Shang-Chi succeeded in highlighting how the diaspora lives in their host society and how they view their cultural identity. In a larger context, the film also shows the phenomenon of global migration that occurs in this contemporary era.

According to William Safran, there are at least six main features that characterize the diaspora, starting from the process of migration out of their place of origin, the preservation of the memory of their “homeland”, the belief that they are not fully accepted in their host society, the imagination of the ancestral homeland as their real “home”, to a feeling of responsibility to maintain and even protect the place of origin of their ancestors (Safran, 1991). It seems certain that almost all of these characteristics are reflected in the plot and storyline of the characters in this film. In the scene at the house of Katy’s character (played by Awkwafina), for example, breakfast activities are clearly shown along with dialogue interludes which show Katy’s family who have hopes for their children’s profession. From this, of course, we can see that one of the main reasons the diaspora migrates is to seek opportunities and a better life, so that when the child is considered not to have a “respectable” job, it certainly does not fulfill the dream of the diaspora in general.

In addition, some interesting things in this film that also reflect the characteristics of the diaspora are the scenes where Shang-Chi and Katy talk about his real name. In the film, it is told that Shang-Chi chose Shawn as his nickname when he decided to move to California. The name change was certainly made to “make it easier” for his life as a diaspora, where the host society is dominated by people who speak English. 

In 2009, Betty Brown, a Republican representative in Texas, suggested that the Asian diaspora community adopt a name that is easy for Americans to pronounce (Chao, 2021). This, of course, caused controversy and Betty apologized for her statement. This phenomenon actually reflects the existence of social pressure in the host society towards the diaspora, where the diaspora is required to assimilate with the people in the region. It is then able to meet the characteristics of the diaspora who have the belief that their host society does not fully accept their presence.

Diasporic Imaginations of Ancestral Homeland

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also shows how the diaspora community views or imagines their ancestral homeland. In the film, little Shang-Chi often listens to tales told by his mother about her village, namely Ta Lo. Ta lo is described as a village in the deep remote bamboo forest of China, where warriors live and guard the door that locks up evil creatures that endanger human civilization. Long story short, Shang-Chi then returns to Ta Lo to save the village from his father’s ambitions. At Ta Lo, Shang-Chi is greeted by Ying Nan (Michelle Yeoh), a warrior who is also Shang-Chi’s aunt. Ying Nan then gave Shang-Chi the clothes and war equipment left by his late mother which he then passed on to him. In the story, Ying Nan tells that he knows that one day Shang-Chi will return to Ta Lo and protect his hometown.

This story is actually quite enough to describe the characteristics of the diaspora mentioned by Safran. In this case, Shang-Chi has memories of Ta Lo even though he has never been there. The existence of stories about myths and images about hometowns that Shang-Chi heard through his late mother became the main means of forming the ethnocommunal consciousness that Shang-Chi and other diaspora had to the place of origin of their ancestors (Safran, 1991). The narrative that is built has an effect on the emergence of the myth of the diaspora ancestral land (Cakmak, 2021). This myth creates a sense of attachment and a desire to return to that place which also contributes to the creation of an inner bond between Shang-Chi as a diaspora and their ancestral land. Safran in his writings sees that diasporas tend to have a sense of responsibility to protect or restore their ancestral lands. In this story, Shang-Chi’s diaspora imagination towards Ta Lo can finally be realized through his heroic actions against the vicious creatures who are trying to destroy Ta Lo.

Furthermore, the film Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings also provides a little discourse portrait of the diaspora’s view of their ancestral land. In the film, Ta Lo is said to be at risk because of the actions of some people who want to impose their own will. From the narration told by Ying Nan, we know that Ta Lo is a peaceful country, where everyone is treated equally—in short Ta Lo could be described as heaven on earth. This is in stark contrast to the depiction of Macau under Modern Chinese rule which is full of violence and crime in that film. In this film, Shang-Chi as a diaspora is depicted returning to his ancestral land to save Ta Lo from the threat of these evil people. It can be considered as the discourse of the film in the contextualization of the thinking and imagination of the Chinese diaspora towards their ancestral lands which might also seem in danger.


In the end, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings succeeded in presenting the issue of diaspora as a social phenomenon produced by the patterns of global migration. Shang-Chi does not only talk about the issue of identity, but more than that, this film shows an indication of the imagination of the diaspora community towards their ancestral homeland in this era of globalization. This film also described the connection and inner bond between the diaspora and its ancestral lands, although perhaps individuals from that community have never set foot there. In today’s contemporary world, migration and diaspora have become phenomena that cannot be denied and the study of these phenomena should receive more attention.


Cakmak, Mustafa. “‘Take Me Back to My Homeland Dead or Alive!’: The Myth of Return among London’s Turkish-Speaking Community.” Frontiers in Sociology 6 (2021).

Chao, Mary. “What’s in a Name? for Asian Immigrants, a Chance to ‘Assimilate or Vanish’.” North Jersey Media Group., May 28, 2021.

Leroy, Kath. “Shang-Chi: 10 Best Quotes from the MCU Movie.” Game Rant, September 5, 2021.

Mendelson, Scott. “’Shang-Chi’ Nabs Another Big Box Office Milestone.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, October 5, 2021.

Safran, William. “Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return.” Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 1, no. 1 (1991): 83–99. 

Danny Widiatmo is an International Relations student at Universitas Indonesia. He can be found on Twitter with the username @dannisaurus or Instagram with the username @dannywidiatmo

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