The Mummy: Tomb of Dragon Emperor starts its narrative from Chinese Qin dynasty. To summarize the plot, Zi Yuan (Michel Yoeh), a witch, curses Qin Shi Huang Di (Jet Li) into a terracotta statue since he kills her lover General Ming. Thousand years later, Rick (Brendan Fraser) is tricked to China, and awakens Emperor Qin and his army. Together with his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) and his son Alex (Luke Ford), an archaeology student, and the skeletons woken by Zi Yuan, he manages to stop the return of Emperor Qin’s authority and tyranny in Chinese landscape.
The stereotypical images of China and Chinese people are basically all represented in this film. Ziyuan, for example, is characterized as one of most problematic roles of Chinese women—the dragon lady. She is a witch, mysterious and strong; she is able to turn humans into status, deceitful and dominative. These are all representative features of the dragon ladies (Herbst, 1997, p72). Furthermore, the Chinese male protagonist Emperor Qin is also conceptualized with a cliché view, where his evilness and cruelty make him a complete reflection of Fu Manchu.
Here, the history of Qin dynasty is noteworthy. In 221BC, the Qin dynasty was established by the “first sovereign emperor” Qin Shi Huang Di. He managed to reform the authority of law, reorganize local administration and develop the production rate such as in terms of agriculture, benefiting the overall sovereign and order of China (Pletcher, 2011, p56). To defend the security of Chinese Central Plains, Emperor Qin initiated to construct the great wall, stopping the invasion of “the barbarian intrusion” (Bodde, 2008, p63). Meanwhile, it is undeniable that the first Chinese emperor exerted his authority ruthlessly and cruel. For example, “millions of people were dragooned to the huge construction jobs, many dying on the long journey to their destination” (Pletcher, 2011, p58). Nevertheless, the “stone inscriptions of his time that he had corrected the misconduct of a corrupted age and given the people peace and order” (Pletcher, 2011, p58). Therefore, these strict strategies brought about positive transformations to China and reformed the chaotic and war-tone Central Plains area into a united country. To rewards this contribute, after his sudden death, over 6000 life-size soldier statues were buried near to his tomb in Xi’an, being renowned as the eighth wonder of the world (Man, 2008, p204).
Compared with the real history, the version presented in this film is as well troublesome. Emperor Qin is only portrayed as a violent emperor who is willing to dominate the world, but his historical attributions towards Chinese society are fully overlooked. His evilness can be exemplified by his embodiment of a dragon. During the fight between the western characters and Chinese terracotta army, Emperor Qin becomes a three-headed dragon that is able to spit fire and destroy lives. Nevertheless, the concept of dragon believed by western people is completely different from that of the East.
In most western folktales, legends and myths, most dragons have more than one head. This is supported by Zhao (1992, p54) that “Demanding sacrifices, and crawling in filth, most Western dragons shed all positive connotations and took the part of destructive loners, isolated aliens coning from a strange and dangerous land”, as “a representation of the paradoxical nature of evil”. By contrast, in Chinese notion, dragon is considered as “an ambivalent rain-god” (Zhao, 1992, p71). Its symbolic aspects include “worship of the sovereign, ancestor cult, and the wish for fertility”; it is enigmatic but has positive influence, so that “Confucians often take it as a concrete emblem of the emperor” (Zhao, 1992, p74). In this case, it is clear that in this film, the three-headed dragon applies the cruelty of western dragon into Chinese context inappropriately to establish a ruthless image of Emperor Qin.
The wrong translation of Chinese lines also exaggerates Emperor Qin’s atrocity. Before the battle starts, Qin Shi Huang Di announces the following sentences in Chinese:
尔 等 醒 于 今 ， 止 世 上 混 乱 腐 败 ， 必 恢 复 法 制 。 朕 必 须 夺 回 天 下 ， 绝 自 由 余 患 。 朕 告 尔 等 ， 威 望 广 施 正 义 于 天 下……
The English translations, as official subtitles, are as follows:
“Today you awake to a world in the grip of chaos and corruption. I will restore order. I will restore what is mine. I will crush ant idea of freedom……I raise you for one purpose to enforce my will on the entire world.
There are many important Chinese terms neglected in the English translation. Literally, for “必恢复法制”, instead of “I will restore order”, the more accurate one should be “I will restore law and order”. The phrase “正 义 (integrity)” is also replaced with “my will”. These small but generalized mistranslations change the Chinese meanings subtly but significantly, manifesting Emperor Qin from the one who pursues law, order and integrity into a merciless tyrant who only keens to achieve his own authority. These features denote the film’s deliberate disrespect or ignorance of Chinese culture, and unveil the Orientalist misunderstanding and prejudice against China in a manipulative manner (Sun, 2008, p53).