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4 conversations I’m having with my child about “Mulan”

Over the last few weeks, I have been studying the country of China with my seven-year-old daughter. We have researched landmarks, language, customs, and geography. I want to teach my daughter about the diversity of God’s creation, so when we looked at maps of China and its regions, we looked at pictures of the various people groups that live in the country’s different regions.

I intentionally pointed out the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwestern China where the Uighur people have faced brutality because of their race and a campaign of genocide at the hands of the Chinese authorities. I could not ignore this historical moment in our geography lesson. So without going into graphic detail, I shared with her that a government is designed to protect its people (Rom. 13:1–7). But in Xinjiang, the government is hurting its people.

As we studied China, our family also looked forward to the latest live-action Disney movie, “Mulan.” The film recounts the story of a fearless young woman who risks everything out of love for her family and country to become one of China’s greatest warriors. The movie’s anthem is “Loyal, Brave, True,” a song that proclaims the importance of fighting for freedom and to protect one’s family.

With core themes like these, I didn’t anticipate the dilemma I now face. Since the movie’s release, I’ve learned that the movie was filmed in Turpan, a city where local officials operate concentration camps that hold Uighur people. In the movie’s closing credits, Disney explicitly thanks multiple Chinese government entities including Turpan’s public safety bureau, which is responsible for operating camps in the area. Moreover, Liu Yifei, the actress who plays Mulan, has used her platform to speak out in support of the Chinese Communist Party and against freedom for the Chinese people. In light of these realities, the ideals of loyalty, bravery, and truth that the film upholds look more like a thinly veiled facade behind which Disney is hiding actions that actually support China’s totalitarian government.  

My prayer for my daughter is that she won’t grow up turning a blind eye to injustice and suffering but rather see that she has a stewardship from God to be loyal, brave, and true.

We have decided we will eventually watch the movie, though some families have made the choice that they will not. As a parent, I am now faced with several questions. Do I simply teach my daughter the surface-level values of the film? After all, Disney has often presented heroes and heroines that fight for justice and truth. Or, do I pull back the veil and begin to teach my daughter about the complexities of evil?

This is an ongoing work in progress, but here is where we have started:  

  1. Teach your kids about human dignity. It’s not lost on me that my daughter and I enjoy many privileges. We experience safety and freedom while at the same moment Uighur families experience the horrors of persecution. This is grace, because the Uighur people are equal to us in the eyes of God. They are inherently his image-bearers, but they have not been treated with dignity.
  2. Teach your children to seek justice while trusting in God’s sovereignty. When we see injustice happening in our world, we have a desire to take necessary action. But, as Christians, when we act, we should do so hoping in the truth that God is sovereign over both good and evil. God’s Word promises that Jesus will return one day to put an end to injustice and evil on this earth. This fact serves as a reminder for me to teach my daughter to pray for the Uighur people. We pray for world leaders to honor the dignity of the Uighur people by standing up to the Chinese authorities, and we pray that the Uighur people would hear and believe the good news of the gospel—that they’ll find hope in Christ in the midst of this present darkness.
  3. Teach kids to respect government authorities but also help them realize that human governments are broken. It’s part of our civic duty to serve our communities and country by giving back to others. And it’s important to teach our children to be good citizens. As I teach my daughter the history of our nation, I’m careful to emphasize our civic duty as citizens of the United States within the context of a biblical worldview in which God’s sovereignty reigns supreme. Our children should know that bravery is required when seeking to protect others or build up our communities. But our children also need to learn that governments never carry out truth and justice perfectly. Broken institutions are bad saviors. We should not lead our kids to put their hope in man-made institutions but in God alone. Governments will fail, but ultimately God’s justice will not fail.
  4. Finally, help your kids pay attention to history and what is happening around them. I want to teach my daughter to recognize good and evil in the world as she grows. One way to help her grow in discernment is to help her learn history and then think about it in light of the Scriptures. What events and people have led to this current moment? How can I relate current events to her in age-appropriate ways? Parents will differ about whether or not it’s appropriate to pull back the veil on Disney’s connections to the Chinese authorities. Your child’s age and emotional makeup should factor into your decision about what information they can handle. But every parent should seek to talk to their children about current events and help their children to evaluate the world in light of a biblical worldview.

I began this series of geography lessons to help my daughter see that God has created a world that is bigger than her limited view. I believe it’s important for her to learn from an early age that God’s world is bigger than the community of like-minded people around us. I also want her to hide the truths of God’s Word deep within her heart so that as she grows to have a larger view of the world, she’ll also bravely seek justice, goodness, and truth. My prayer for my daughter is that she won’t grow up turning a blind eye to injustice and suffering but rather see that she has a stewardship from God to be loyal, brave, and true.

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