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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.

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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)

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. 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. 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. 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. Skara

    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

CAPA Controversy Continued: Li Xuezheng Won’t Be Silenced

Despite being censored and threatened, Li Xuezheng believes the force of law is with him.

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It has been a stormy week on Weibo following the ‘warning list’ issued by China’s Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) on Tuesday, November 23rd.

It was the ninth time since 2018 for CAPA’s livestreaming branch to issue a list of names of people with a ‘bad record.’ Different from previous lists, its most recent list also included the names of Chinese celebrities who are not necessarily active within the livestreaming industry but should be barred from entering the industry based on their track records.

One of these names is that of Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚), whose online photos from him visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Japan in 2018 were one of the major reasons for him to get into trouble in the summer of 2021.

This is one of the photos that Zhang Zhehan posted of himself, posing at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, that got him into trouble.

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.

Despite apologizing for his supposed lack of historical understanding of the places where he took photos, Zhang saw his career shattered when his social media account was suspended and his brand partnerships were canceled.

Following the inclusion of Zhang’s name on the recent CAPA blacklist, famous producer/distributor/actor Li Xuezheng (李学政), director of the Golden Shield Film and Television Center, started posting about the issue on his Weibo account, where he now has over 1.1 million followers.

On November 25th, What’s on Weibo reported how Li criticized the blacklist of CAPA, questioning the criteria of the names that are included and how an association or business entity such as CAPA would have the legal power to enforce disciplinary measures over Chinese celebrities beyond the realm of their own association membership circles.

When Li Xuezheng stated he would be willing to help Zhang Zhehan file a lawsuit against CAPA, he received nearly 100,000 likes on his post within 24 hours.

Li Xuezheng in one of his videos posted on Weibo.

Since Li Xuezheng first posted about the ‘warning list’ of China’s Association of Performing Arts, he published at least twenty posts from November 23 to November 26, including a few videos. His posts have been gaining more traction, and some have received over 140,000 likes within a day.

Li’s main stance is that, although he says he supports the general initiative of making blacklists, he wants to know how, why, and if CAPA has the legal authority to ban Chinese celebrities from the industry. Li stresses that China is a law-based society and that these kinds of punitive measures should have a legal basis.

Since Li has worked in anti-corruption-related positions before, he says it is very important to know who oversees the process of compiling celebrity blacklists and which methods are used. Since China’s livestreaming industry and the commercial activities of celebrities are of great economic value, people would do anything they can to be removed from such a list. When these kinds of power dynamics play a role, Li argues, the risk of corruption is always there – which is why it is all the more important to know who compiles these kinds of lists and which legal authority they have.

Li argues that China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism have the authority to ‘blacklist’ people in the industry. But when people such as Zhang Zhehan are not listed anywhere according to these authorities, it should be questioned why they are still included in lists such as the one issued by CAPA. Going by law is one of the main principles Li stands by.

Although there are also people criticizing Li, saying he is “saving bad performers” to gain clout, there are many who praise him for his courage and perseverance, reiterating the necessity for Chinese organizations to abide by the law. Others are just following the trend for entertainment, writing: “I’m enjoying the spectacle of this, there’s the CAPA, there’s capital, money laundering, platforms, hiding the truth from the masses…”

Zhang Zhehan still has a loyal group of fans, who support Li in raising awareness for what they believe is the wrongful punishment of their idol.

What is also noteworthy about Li’s posts, is how he refuses to be silenced by outside forces. When Weibo censors his posts, he makes it public by posting screenshots. When he is told by people claiming to have authority to delete his Weibo accounts, he reports back to his readers about what has happened to him.

Although there are many Weibo users who worry about Li’s safety for speaking out about these matters, Li himself does not seem to be anxious at all. “I am legally responsible for every word I publish,” Li writes on November 25th, arguing that nothing he posts is illegal and that he only tries to adhere to the ruling standards and to keep China’s online (entertainment) industry healthy by questioning those claiming to have authority.

One of the points raised by Li is that Zhang Zhehan has never really done anything illegal. By visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, he surely caused a social media storm and was criticized, but he did not do anything illegal and did not spread rumors. If visiting Yasukuni Shrine in itself would be a crime, Li argues, many Chinese media reporters would surely need to be punished as well.

By now, Li has started a storm that does not seem to be lying down any time soon. On November 26, the official site of the China Association of Performing Arts removed its list of leaders from its official site. As of now, it is unclear why this has been done.

At the same time, Li writes that there are more people trying to threaten and smear him. Li still says he will not be silenced: “The great power of justice is surrounding us.”

To read more on this issue, check out our other related articles here.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 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

Li Xuezheng Defies Online Celebrity ‘Blacklist,’ Says He’ll Help Zhang Zhehan File Lawsuit

China’s Association of Performing Arts has issued a blacklist, but Li Xuezheng questions their legal authority to do so.

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As an important voice within the industry, Li Xuezheng has spoken out against the recent blacklist of Chinese (online) performers issued by the China Association of Performing Arts. Li is willing to help one of the prominent names on the list, Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan, to file a lawsuit against the Association.

Li Xuezheng (李学政), Vice Chairman of the China TV Artists Association and Director of the Golden Shield Television Center, has published a video that has caught the attention of many on Weibo. In his video, Li questions the authority of China’s Association of Performing Arts (CAPA/中国演出行业协会), which released a black list of online celebrities earlier this week.

The list went trending on Weibo and contains 88 names of internet personalities who have been reported and registered for their supposedly bad behavior. The people on the list have either violated the law or their actions have allegedly negatively impacted society and public order (more about the list here).

The consequences for the people included in the list are potentially huge, since it not only bans livestreamers from continuing their work but also prohibits performers who were previously ‘canceled’ from entering China’s livestreaming industry to generate an income there. Through the list, CAPA gives an overview of people that should be boycotted and disciplined in the industry.

One of the people on the list is Zhang Zhehan, an actor who got caught up in a Chinese social media storm in August of 2021 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.

Zhang Zhehan got into trouble for posting photos of himself at Japanese shrines deemed historically controversial.

Although Zhang apologized, Zhang’s account and an affiliated work account were suspended by Weibo and the brand partnerships he was involved in were canceled.

Chinese celebrities who have fallen out of favor with authorities or audiences will sometimes turn to livestreaming. Singer Li Daimo (李代沫), for example, became a livestreamer after his successful singing career ended due to a drugs scandal. But now, even such an alternative career would no longer be possible for someone like Zhang, although he was never legally convicted for anything.

News of CAPA’s blacklist was widely published, also by People’s Daily, and the measures were presented as a way to tidy up the chaotic online entertainment industry and to create a “healthy and positive” internet environment.

In his video and other recent posts, Li Xuezheng wonders how the so-called ‘warning list’ was compiled, according to which criteria, by whom it was created, and whether or not the CAPA actually has the legal power to shut people out of China’s live streaming industry.

He also raises the issue that CAPA’s live streaming branch, that issued the blacklist, is actually a business entity; so how does it have the legal disciplinary powers to impose sanctions against Chinese online influencers and performers?

Li Xuezheng in his video.

Li’s video, posted on his Weibo account on November 24, has received over 90,000 likes and was shared over 8500 times at the time of writing.

“What I don’t understand,” one popular comment says: “- are these online influencers [on the list] all members of the Association? Can the Association also punish non-members? Does the authority of the Association cover all media? On what legal basis is their regulatory conduct based?”

The China Association of Performing Arts, founded in 1988, is a national-level organization that falls under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China. It is a non-profit organization formed by performance operators and performers, according to its official website, which also states that members of the association include performance groups, performance venues and companies, ticketing companies, and more.

Since Li’s video was posted on November 24th, he received a lot of support from Chinese netizens but also faced some online censorship. Li himself posted screenshots showing that not all of his posts could be published.

It is noteworthy for someone like Li to speak out against CAPA’s blacklist. Li Xuezheng is a familiar face within the industry. Born in Shandong Province in 1965, Li has worked in China’s film and TV industry for a long time and has since built an impressive resume as a producer, supervisor, actor, and distributor. He has over a million followers on his Weibo account (@李学政).

On November 25th, Li added another post to his series of posts on the CAPA issue, saying that although his initial goal was just to make sure that CAPA sticks to the rules, he is now also prepared to help Zhang Zhehan in filing a lawsuit against the Association, since Zhang did not violate any laws in order for him to be ‘canceled’ like this. “I believe in the justice of the law,” Li writes.

Although Li received a lot of support on social media, there are also those who worry about Li himself: “You first take care of yourself,” some say, with others warning him: “Teacher Li, if you go on like this, you will lose your [Weibo] account tomorrow.”

Others are moved by Li’s courage: “I almost feel like crying reading your words.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone with this kind of overwhelming righteousness.”

For now, Li seems to be unstoppable in his goal to get to the bottom of this case; he seems to be determined to raise awareness within the industry on who is legally allowed to set the rules and who is not.

One popular comment says: “Looking at Teacher Li, I see he is fighting corruption and advocating honesty. Besides listening to the public’s opinion, I just hope law-based society will rule according to law.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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