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“I Deeply Love My Motherland!” – Chinese Actor Zhang Zhehan Under Fire for Yasukuni and Nogi Shrine Photos

Chinese celebrity Zhang Zhehan is facing Chinese “cancel culture” after his historically insensitive social media posts.

Manya Koetse



Zhang Zhehan is caught up in a Chinese social media storm over attending a wedding at a controversial Japanese shrine and taking pictures at Yasukuni, a shrine that is seen as representing Japanese militarism and aggression.

An apology statement issued on Weibo by Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚, 1991) attracted over 9,5 million likes and more than 590,000 comments on the social media platform on Friday, August 13.

The reason for the actor to get caught up in controversy is a wedding he attended in Japan. He previously shared photos on social media of those wedding celebrations, that took place at Nogi Shrine (乃木神社).

The actor also took a picture together with a woman who was later identified as the 81-year-old Dewi Sukarno.

In light of the Nogi Shrine controversy, netizens soon dug up other older photos of Zhang. Some photos from 2018 showed the actor also visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社).

Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine is a particularly sensitive location when it comes to memories of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).

The shrine is dedicated to the Japanese soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the emperor, including those who committed war crimes in China. It is generally seen as a symbol of Japanese military aggression and as a painful reminder of the numerous atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China and other Asian countries.

Over the past decades, there have been recurring rows between Japan and China over Japanese politicians and Prime Ministers paying their respects at the Shrine. Koizumi visited the Shrine at least five times.

Nogi Shrine is perhaps not as controversial as Yasukuni Shrine, but it also is linked to Sino-Japanese War, as it is dedicated to General Nogi Maresuke, who led Japan’s military during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895).

Dewi Sukarno is the former first lady of Indonesia. She is mainly controversial within this context for allegedly making anti-Chinese statements in the past. On social media, she is linked to defending the Japanese APA hotel chain when it came under fire in 2017 for placing right-wing books in its guest rooms.

For Chinese actor Zhang, this means he committed not one faux-pas, but three in a row. In the past, Chinese celebrities have been ‘canceled’ for other historically sensitive issues.

In 2019, for example, the actor Zhao Lixin was removed from Weibo after he called the Nanjing Massacre a  “consequence of Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion” and also posting comments about why the Japanese military did not destroy the Beijing Palace Museum during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Last year, 30-year-old Zhang received a Weibo award for being the “Rising Artist of the Year.” He starred in various popular television dramas, including the Legend of Yun Xi and Word of Honor.

Although Zhang’s loyal fans come to his defense, the majority of Weibo commenters harshly criticize Zhang for posting photos at such historically sensitive places.

Some companies that worked together with Zhang have also come forward and canceled their partnerships. Among them is Coca-Cola. The company released a very brief statement on Weibo on August 13, saying the company will no longer work with the Chinese actor.

In his apology statement, Zhang wrote that he attended a friend’s wedding in Japan, and was not aware of the historical background of the wedding venue. He understands that he is being criticized for “being ignorant.”

The actor apologizes for “hurting the feelings” of his compatriots, and also wrote: “I’m not pro-Japan, I’m Chinese! I deeply love my motherland!”

“As a public figure, I should always remember the injuries left by [our] history, and in the future, I will study history and culture more seriously,” Zhang says.

Zhang’s apology has not settled the social media storm. One company after the other that previously worked with the Chinese celebrity, including Taobao and Clinique, have announced the termination of their partnership. This led to the “All Brands Working with Zhang Zhehan Terminate Partnership” (#全部品牌终止与张哲瀚合作#) hashtag.

Netizens also dug up more controversial photos from Zhang’s social media post, with one photo showing how the actor seems to do a Nazi salute (#张哲瀚纳粹手势#).

The comments underneath Zhang’s apology statement show that many netizens won’t forgive the actor: “This is not just one time! It was not just Yasukuni! The fans who are trying to clean your slate are stepping on the blood of the generations before us!”

But some fans are somewhat more forgiving: “As a public figure, Zhang Zhehan has the responsibility to pay attention to his influence, and his thoughtless act of a few years ago has caused misunderstanding and he’s reflecting on that. He’s sincerely apologized and has spoken up, which is what he should do as an actor. As a Chinese who has always supported his country, he has learned his lesson. His fans will join him in the future to pay more attention to their own words and actions, and they won’t have room for further misunderstandings.”

Update: Following this controversy, Zhang’s account and an affiliated work account were suspended by Weibo.

Read more: 25 ‘Tainted Celebrities’: What Happens When Chinese Entertainers Get Canceled?

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar

    Liz Mater

    August 16, 2021 at 12:49 am

    I just purchased a dvd of Word Of Hoonor due to the bad press Zhange is getting. Being a U.S. citizen I have seen too many careers ruined by such press fueled feeding frenzies and wwas afraid with all the companies that are giving into this puvlicity have cancelled their deals with th eactor. Even when the story may have little or no basis in fact it can make a person look guilty even if they are just ignorant of all the facts. I wasn’t even born when all the fighting was going on and I imagine Zhange wasn’t either, and if his education was deficient in teaching young people fully about their history, well just look at the U.S> we have’t always done a great job in that field, and maybe that is why wwe keep condeming people for actions they take which look suspicious to some may actually be nnocent. All in all Ijust want to say I support Zhange and hope he comes out of this with
    some who don’t deset him, and also hope that you won’t be removing his films and music from the pupblic, because while you bow down to the few who are angry about this there are still people who back hom and wish to see more of him on TV and films and concert.
    this from one American who doesn’t think the press is wlwayss right nor is it always wrong, but they do tend, n my opinion , jump on a juicy story before they know all the facts.
    (Zhange don’t let the bullies get you down)

  2. Avatar

    Liz Mater

    August 16, 2021 at 12:59 am

    Ihave been trying to post a comment backing Zhange Zhehan and have been blocked everytime. Iwish I knew why, is it content or the fact I am not CHinese.

  3. Avatar

    Liz Mater

    August 16, 2021 at 8:15 am

    I just want to say that I am so sorry that Zhang got caught up in this media onslaught. Actually when I heard how “THEY” were canceling his shows, sponsorships, even taking his name off the cast of Word Of Honor (do they really think anyone who has seen the show will forget he was one of the two lead actors–get real) Newaygo the minute I heard about the cancelations I Wen out on ebay and bought the dad’s of Word of Honor so they couldn’t steal it from me. I have seen too many people’s careers and lives ruined by accusations and assumptions by.others, and with the whole hearted members of the press as I am a itizen of the U.S. (and not always proud of that fact) but now that I see the same type of things going on in other countries, I guess the U.S. mis’nt such a bad place to live.I. CLOSING I just want to with Zhang Zhehan the best and keep your head up and don’t let the bas****s get you down.

  4. Avatar


    August 17, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    Mr Zhang Zhehan will not be the first and last to make mistake of being photographed around the Shrine area.

    The Shrine seems to be a trap for anyone not paying too much attention where they’re going and who are taking photos.

    Hope his boycott and ‘punishment’ will end soon.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Jia Ling Returns to the Limelight with New “YOLO” Movie and 110-Pound Weight Loss Announcement

After a year away from the spotlight, Chinese actress and director Jia Ling is back, announcing both a new film and slimmer figure.

Manya Koetse



Chinese actress and director Jia Ling (贾玲) has been trending on Weibo thanks to her upcoming film YOLO (热辣滚烫) and her remarkable weight loss transformation.

Jia Ling is a famous Chinese comedian actress, known for her annual Spring Festival Gala performances. She has been especially successful in the previous years as she made her directorial debut in 2021 with the award-winning box office hit Hi, Mom (Chinese title Hi, Li Huanying 你好,李焕英), in which she also stars as the female protagonist. That same year, audiences saw her as Wu Ge in Embrace Again (穿过寒冬拥抱你).

It has been a while since we’ve heard from Jia Ling, but on January 11, she resurfaced with a Weibo post in which she explained her absence from the limelight.

In her post, Jia wrote that she has spent the entire year working on the YOLO (热辣滚烫) movie, for which she lost a staggering 100 jin (斤) (110 lbs/50 kg). Just as with Hi, Mum, Jia is both the director of YOLO and the lead actress.

According to Jia, it was a tiring and “hungry” year, during which she ended up “looking like a boxer.” She added that the movie, set to premiere during the Spring Festival, is not necessarily about weight loss at all, but about learning to love yourself.

Within a single day, Jia Ling’s post received nearly 60,000 replies and over 855,000 likes.

Jia Ling’s post on Weibo.

The topic became top trending due to various reasons. It is because fans are excited to see Jia Ling back in the limelight and are anticipating the upcoming movie, but also because they are eager to see Jia Ling’s transformation.

From fans on Weibo: Jia Ling fanart and a meme from one of her well-known Spring Festival performances.

A short scene from the movie showed Jia Ling’s slimmer appearance, and a screenshot of it went viral, with Weibo users saying they hardly recognized Jia anymore.

One hashtag related to Jia Ling’s weight loss, about expert views on losing so much weight in such a relatively short time, received over 450 million on Weibo on Thursday (#医生谈贾玲整容式暴瘦#).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, medical experts quoted by Chinese media outlets caution against rapid weight loss methods, recommending a more gradual approach instead.

Nevertheless, there is great interest in the extreme diets of Chinese celebrities. As discussed in an earlier article about China’s celebrity weight craze, the weight loss journey of Chines actors or influencers often capture widespread attention as people are keen to adopt diet plans promoted by celebrities.

YOLO (热辣滚烫), which will hit Chinese theaters on February 10, tells the story of Le Ying (乐莹), who has withdrawn from social life and isolated herself at home ever since graduation. Trying to get her life back on track, Le Ying meets a boxing coach. The meeting proves to be just the beginning of a new journey in life filled with unforeseen challenges.

The Spring Festival holiday typically sees peak box office numbers in China, making this movie highly anticipated, particularly after the success of Hi, Mum three years ago. On Weibo, many view Jia Ling’s weight loss as a testament to her dedication and are eager to see the results of her year-long efforts in the cinema next month.

By Manya Koetse

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China Celebs

Three Reasons Why Lipstick King’s ‘Eyebrow Pencil Gate’ Has Blown Up

From beauty guru to betrayal: why one livestream moment is shaking China’s internet.

Manya Koetse




Li Jiaqi, also known as Austin Li the ‘Lipstick King,’ has become the focus of intense media attention in China over the past days.

The controversy began when the popular beauty influencer responded with apparent annoyance to a viewer’s comment about the high price of an eyebrow pencil. As a result, his fans began unfollowing him, netizens started scolding him, Chinese state criticized him, and the memes started flooding in.

Li Jiaqi’s tearful apology did not fix anything.

We reported about the incident here shortly after it went trending, and you can see the translated video of the moment here:

The incident may seem minor at first glance. Li was merely promoting Florasis brand (花西子) eyebrow pencils, and some viewers expressed their opinion that the pencils, priced at 79 yuan ($11), had become more expensive.

In response, Li displayed irritation, questioning, “Expensive how?” He went on to suggest that viewers should also reflect on their own efforts and whether they were working hard enough to get a salary increase.

But there is more to this incident than just an $11 pencil and an unsympathetic response.


#1 The King Who Forgot the People Who Crowned Him


The initial reaction of netizens to Li Jiaqi’s remarks during the September 10th livestream was characterized by a strong sense of anger and disappointment.

Although celebrities often face scrutiny when displaying signs of arrogance after their rise to fame, the position of Li Jiaqi in the wanghong (internet celebrity) scene has been especially unique. He initially worked as a beauty consultant for L’Oreal within a shopping mall before embarking on his livestreaming career through Alibaba’s Taobao platform.

In a time when consumers have access to thousands of makeup products across various price ranges, Li Jiaqi established himself as a trusted cosmetics expert. People relied on his expertise to recommend the right products at the right prices, and his practice of personally applying and showcasing various lipstick colors made him all the more popular. He soon garnered millions of online fans who started calling him the Lipstick King.

By 2018, he had already amassed a significant fortune of 10 million yuan ($1.53 million). Fast forward three years, and his wealth had ballooned to an astonishing 18.5 billion yuan ($2.5 billion).

Despite his growing wealth, Li continued to enjoy the support of his fans, who appreciated his honest assessments of products during live testing sessions. He was known for candidly informing viewers when a product wasn’t worth buying, and the story of his humble beginnings as a shop assistant played a major role in why people trusted him and wanted him to succeed.

However, his recent change in tone, where he no longer seemed considerate of viewers who might find an $11 brow pencil to be expensive, suggests that he may have lost touch with his own customer base. Some individuals perceive this shift as a form of actual “betrayal” (背叛), as if a close friend has turned their back on them.

The viral cartoon shows Li Jiaqi going from a friendly beggar to angry rat.

One cartoon shared on social media shows Li Jiaqi, with mouse ears, as he initially begs his online viewers for money. However, as he becomes more prosperous, the cartoon portrays him gradually growing arrogant and eventually scolding those who helped him rise to fame.

Many people accuse Li of being insincere, suggesting that he revealed his true colors during that short livestream moment. This is also one of the reasons why most commenters say they do not believe his tears during his apology video.

“He betrayed China’s working class,” one popular vlog suggested.


#2 Internet Celebrity Crossing the Lines


Another reason why the incident involving Li Jiaqi is causing such a storm is related to the media context in which Chinese (internet) celebrities operate and what is expected of them.

Whether you are an actor, singer, comedian, or a famous livestreamer/e-commerce influencer, Chinese celebrities and performers are seen as fulfilling an exemplary role in society, serving the people and the nation (Jeffrey & Xu 2023). This is why, as explained in the 2019 research report by Jonathan Sullivan and Séagh Kehoe, moral components play such a significant role in Chinese celebrity culture.

In today’s age of social media, the role of celebrities in society has evolved to become even more significant as they have a vast reach and profound influence that extends to countless people and industries.

Their powerful influence makes celebrities important tools for authorities to convey messages that align with their goals – and definitely not contradict them. Through the media and cultural industries, the state can exert a certain level of control within the symbolic economy in which celebrities operate, as discussed by Sullivan and Kehoe in their 2019 work (p. 242).

This control over celebrities’ actions became particularly evident in the case of Li Jiaqi in 2022, following the ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件). This incident unfolded during one of his livestreams when Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced a chocolate cake in the shape of a tank, with an assistant in the back mentioning something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”). This livestream took place on June 3rd, on the night before the 33rd anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen protests.

While Li Jiaqi did not directly touch upon a politically sensitive issue with his controversial livestream, his actions were perceived as a disregard for customer loyalty and displayed an arrogance inconsistent with socialist core values. This behavior garnered criticism in a recent post by the state media outlet CCTV.

Post by CCTV condemning Li’s behavior.

Other state media outlets and official channels have joined in responding to the issue, amplifying the narrative of a conflict between the ‘common people’ and the ‘arrogant influencer.’


#3 Striking a Wrong Chord in Challenging Times


Lastly, Li Jiaqi’s controversial livestream moment also became especially big due to the specific words he said about people needing to reflect on their own work efforts if they cannot afford a $11 eyebrow pencil.

Various online discussions and some media, including CNN, are tying the backlash to young unemployment, tepid consumer spending, and the ongoing economic challenges faced by workers in China.

Since recent years, the term nèijuǎn (‘involution’, 内卷) has gained prominence when discussing the frustrations experienced by many young people in China. It serves as a concept to explain the social dynamics of China’s growing middle class who often find themselves stuck in a “rat race”; a highly competitive education and work environment, where everyone is continually intensifying their efforts to outperform one another, leading to this catch 22 situation where everyone appears to be caught in an unending cycle of exertion without substantial progress (read more here).

Weibo commenters note that, given China’s current employment situation and wage levels, hard work is not necessarily awarded with higher income. This context makes Li Jiaqi’s comments seem even more unnecessary and disconnected from the realities faced by his customers. One Shanghai surgeon responded to Li’s comments, saying that the fact that his salary has not increased over the last few year certainly is not because he is not working hard enough (#上海胸外科医生回应李佳琦言论#).

Some observers also recognize that Li, as an e-commerce professional, is, in a way, trapped in the same cycle of “inversion” where brands are continuously driving prices down to such low levels that consumers perceive it as the new normal. However, this pricing strategy may not be sustainable in the long run. (Ironically, some brands currently profiting from the controversy by promoting their own 79 yuan deals, suggesting their deal is much better than Li’s. Among them is the domestic brand Bee & Flower 蜂花, which is offering special skin care products sets for 79 yuan in light of the controversy.)

Many discussions therefore also revolve around the question of whether 79 yuan or $11 can be considered expensive for an eyebrow pencil, and opinions are divided. Some argue that people pay much more for skincare products, while others point out that if you were to weigh the actual quantity of pencil color, its price would surpass that of gold.

The incident has sparked discussions about the significance of 79 yuan in today’s times, under the hashtag “What is 79 yuan to normal people” (#79元对于普通人来说意味着什么#).

People have shared their perspectives, highlighting what this amount means in their daily lives. For some, it represents an entire day’s worth of home-cooked meals for a family. It exceeds the daily wages of certain workers, like street cleaners. Others equate it to the cost of 15 office lunches.

One netizen posts 79 yuan ($10.9) worth of groceries.

Amid all these discussions, it also becomes clear that many people are trying to live a frugal live in a time when their wages are not increasing, and that Li’s comments are just one reason to vent their frustrations about the situation they are in, In those regards, Li’s remarks really come at a wrong time, especially coming from a billionaire.

Will Li be able to continue his career after this?

Some are suggesting that it is time for Li to take some rest, speculating that Li’s behavior might stem from burn-out and mental issues. Others think that Li’s hardcore fans will remain loyal to their e-commerce idol.

For now, Li Jiaqi must tread carefully. He has already lost 1.3 million followers on his Weibo account. What’s even more challenging than regaining those one million followers is rebuilding the trust of his viewers.

Update: On September 19, the Florasis/Huaxizi brand finally apologized for its late response to the controversy, and the brand stated that the controversy provided an opportunity for them to listen to “the voice of their consumers.” Their decision to release a statement seemed fruitful: they gained 20,000 new followers in a night.

By Manya Koetse

with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Jeffreys, Elaine, and Jian Xu. 2023. “Governing China’s Celebrities.” Australian Institute of International Affairs, 18 May [12 Sep 2023].

Sullivan, Jonathan, and Séagh Kehoe. 2019. “Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China.” The China Quarterly 237 (March): 241–256.

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