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‘Humiliating’ Korean K-Swiss Commercial Enrages Chinese Netizens, Fuels Anti-Korean Sentiment

K-Swiss has sparked outrage on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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A Korean commercial by American footwear company K-Swiss has recently sparked outrage on Chinese social media. The ad video depicts an alleged Chinese character in a way that is called “insulting” and “humiliating” to China. The controversy fuels anti-Korean sentiments amidst China-South Korea tensions, negatively impacting the popularity and presence of Korean pop culture in the PRC.

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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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?

– By Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar

    justsomeguy69

    November 16, 2016 at 2:46 am

    LOL whiney chiney. Grow up, all of you. No one on the planet likes you, loud, rude, no manners at all, disgusting, spitting, shitting in public, destorying property including millenia-old monuments, committing fraud all day every day. When kids do not play well with others, they are excluded. What do you think the world will do with you? Permanently put you away. All of you

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

Famous Chinese Nursery Song “One Penny” Inflates to “One Yuan”

One penny becomes one yuan in this children’s song. What’s next – changing it to QR codes?

Manya Koetse

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Famous Chinese children’s song “One Penny” (一分钱) has changed its penny to a Chinese yuan ($0.15).

The lyrics to the song are now published online and in children’s books with the different lyrics, Chinese news platform City Bulletin (@都市快报) reports on Weibo.

The altered text in a children’s book.

The classic song, in translation, says:

I found a penny on the street,
And handed it over to Uncle Policeman.
The Uncle Policeman took the penny,
And nodded his head at me.
I happily said: “Uncle, goodbye!

The song, by Chinese composer Pan Zhensheng (潘振声), is known throughout China. It came out in 1963.

Apparently, in present-day China, nobody would go through so much hassle for a penny anymore, and so the text was altered (although it is very doubtful people would go through the trouble for one yuan either).

The penny coin (0.01) in renminbi was first issued in 1957, and is somewhat rare to come across these days. “It’s probably even worth more than one yuan now,” some netizens argue.

Chinese media report that composer Pan Zhensheng said the song is just an innocent children’s song, and that it should not be affected by price inflation. Sina News also quoted the composer in saying that changing the text is “not respectful.”

Although some Chinese netizens think the change in the song is just normal modern development, others do not agree at all. In Hangzhou, some say, all you can find on the streets nowadays is QR codes rather than coins. Surely the song should not incorporate those new developments either?

Some commenters on Weibo say the song would never be realistic in China’s current cashless society anyway: “Kids nowadays are not finding cash money at all anymore!”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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