On August 3, Sina News, along with several other Chinese media, reported that popular Korean actor Park Bo Gum (朴宝剑) appeared in a commercial that is “insulting to China”. The message states that it is unreasonable for Park “to make money in China” and then “humiliate Chinese people”.
Park Bo Gum is famous in mainland China, where Korean popular culture has been booming since the early 2000s. The major popularity of Korean pop culture in the PRC is also referred to as Hallyu, or “Korean Wave”.
The K-Swiss commercial caused a storm of criticism on Chinese social media, where the Sina News post alone was already shared over 5700 times, liked 21,000 times, and receiving more than 19,500 comments within 48 hours after it was posted. Other accounts posting about the video also received thousands of comments, making the issue a trending topic on Sina Weibo, using hashtags like “Korean commercial vilifies The Great Wall [China]” (#韩国广告丑化万里长城#).
“He [Park] comes to China to fill his pockets and then ridicules us,” one of the top comments says. Other Weibo users say Park is “no longer a pop idol” in their eyes or in their country (“国家面前无偶像”), and call him “deceitful” and “no longer welcome in China”.
Controversial game of chess
The 50-second commercial for K-Swiss, an American apparel company, shows Park playing a the Go board game against an alleged Chinese rival named ‘The Great Wall’ (万里长城). Like chess, Go is a strategy board game in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. The game originated from ancient China, and is considered one of the oldest and most refined Chinese strategy games.
After showing how the ‘Chinese’ player makes a move and just when it is Park’s turn, the commercial shifts to a party scene where the two players are dancing on the chess board. Park, in his K-Swiss sneakers, is portrayed as a popular kid with smart moves, his opponent is somewhat clumsy, chubby, and unfashionable. Not only does he have bad dancing skills, he is also slapped by a woman on the dance floor – a move that is laughed about by Park.
Back to the actual chess game, Park finally makes the winning move. As the Chinese name of his opponent [“Great Wall”] is clearly visible, the sound of a goat bleating is played and the commercial ends with a happy Park.
Shutting out Korean stars due to THAAD
By now, the commercial has become highly controversial on Chinese social media, where a majority of netizens denounce it, finding it insulting and discriminatory to China. Many netizens argue that Park should no longer be welcomed in China after choosing to feature in this commercial. “It is not without reason that we’re shutting out Korean stars,” one netizen comments.
The netizen refers to the recent request made by the Chinese State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) to China’s major broadcasting firms, asking them to ban South Korean celebrities from making appearances on television entertainment shows starting next month, The Korea Herald reports.
The request was preceded by a series of sudden cancellations of appearances by Korean stars in China; a Chinese fan meeting with Korean stars Kim Woo Bin and Bae Suzy was “abruptly postponed” earlier this week. The popular Korean actor Lee Jun-ki will not be able to attend the opening of his most recent movie in China due to “visa issues”, and scheduled PRC concerts by Korean bands such as Snuper and Wassup have also been canceled by Chinese organizers for “no specific reason”.
The apparent crackdown on China’s “Korean wave” comes after Beijing’s vehement opposition to South Korea’s THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) deployment. Last July, South Korea and the US announced their final decision to deploy the THAAD system in the south against North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats. The plan has angered Chinese leaders, who see the system as a possible security threat to the PRC.
The opposition to THAAD has now spilled over into popular culture, and South Korean businesses fear it might further influence their trade relations to China.
The huge controversy over the K-Swiss commercial comes at a moment when China-South Korea relations are strained over THAAD. Fragments of the commercial on YouTube from January 2016 suggest that this commercial has been around for at least 7 months, which makes the timing for Chinese state media to put forward news about this ‘recent’ commercial more questionable.
The commercial has nevertheless fuelled anti-Korean sentiments, as Chinese netizens claim to be “furious”, taking the representation of the man called ‘Great Wall’ in the ad video as the way South-Koreans perceive Chinese. “It is not that we want to curse you Koreans, but you disrespect us and look down on China. Your commercial might say ‘Great Wall’, but it is actually directed against all of China. Even I don’t always think China is that harmonious, but when it comes to foreign countries, we need to be patriotic!”, one netizen writes.
While Weibo is overflowing with anti-Korean and China-loving comments, actor Park Bo Gum is quickly losing followers on his official Weibo account, where his latest fan post received thousands of angry comments over the past two days. “I always liked you so much,” one disappointed fan writes: “I never expected this from you.”
What’s on Weibo video blog about the recent controversy on the Korean K-Swiss commercial: discrimination of China?
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