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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 Brands & Marketing

About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse



Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.


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China Brands & Marketing

Chinese Actor and State Security Ambassador Li Yifeng Detained for Soliciting Prostitutes

Li Yifeng is not exactly living up to his role as spokesperson for the Ministry of State Security.

Manya Koetse



Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng (李易峰) went top trending on Chinese social media today. The actor, who previously starred as brand ambassador for the Ministry of State Security and played Mao Zedong in The Pioneer, has been detained for visiting prostitutes.

On January 10 of 2021, China celebrated its very first National Police Day to give full recognition to the police and national security staff for their efforts. For this special day, the Ministry of State Security launched a promo video starring Chinese actor Li Yifeng as the National Police Ambassador (#李易峰国安形象传片#). But today, it turned out that Li might not have been the best man for the job.

Chinese official media reported on September 11 that the 35-year-old actor has been detained for soliciting prostitutes. The hashtag “Li Yifeng Detained for Visiting Prostitutes” (#李易峰多次嫖娼被行政拘留#) received nearly two billion views on Weibo on Sunday; the hashtag “Beijing Police Informs that Li Yifeng Solicited Prostitutes” (#北京警方通报李易峰多次嫖娼#) received a staggering three billion views.

Shortly after the news was announced, various brands for which Li served as a brand ambassador announced that they were no longer working with the actor. Lukfook Jewellery, Mengniu Dairy, Honma Golf, Panerai, Prada, Sensodyne, King To Nin Jiom, and other brands declared that they had terminated their contract with Li (#多个品牌终止与李易峰合作#).

Li rose to fame in 2007 when he participated in the Chinese My Hero talent show. He later debuted as a singer and became a successful actor, starring in various Chinese TV dramas and films. Li became especially popular after starring in Swords of Legends and won an award for his role in the 2015 Chinese crime film Mr. Six (老炮儿). He would go on to win many more awards. One of his biggest roles was starring as Mao Zedong in the 2021 blockbuster The Pioneer (革命者).

According to Global Times, Li was previously announced as one of the celebrities attending the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on CCTV on Saturday night, but his name was later deleted from the program.

“I had never expected my idol to collapse like this,” some disappointed fans wrote on Weibo.

In a ‘super topic’ community dedicated to the star, some fans would not give up on their idol yet: “Where is the proof? Besides the Beijing police statement, where is the actual proof?”

On Li Yifeng’s Weibo page, where the actor has over 60 million fans, nothing has been posted since September 5.

The Huading Awards, a famous entertainment award in China, announced that they cancelled Li Yifeng’s title of “Best Actor in China” (#华鼎奖取消李易峰中国最佳男主角等称号#).

“He lost all he had overnight,” some commenters wrote. “Celebrities generally get cancelled for two things: one is evading taxes, the other is sleeping around,” one popular comment said: “So in a nutshell, pay your taxes and don’t sleep around.*”

“Why do you even need to see a prostitute when you’re so good-looking?” others wondered.

One Weibo user (@大漠叔叔) wrote: “Have a good head on your shoulders and just remember one thing. It does not matter how good your reputation is, or how many titles you have, how much the audience loves you, how much the fans embrace you, how many awards you get, it won’t protect you. Stay clear-headed, merit does not outweigh faults! You can’t cross the moral bottomline nor cross the boundaries of the law. You can be canceled just like that.”

By Manya Koetse 

* This comment is loosely translated here, but the Chinese is quite funny because the words ‘taxes’ and ‘sleeping’ sound similar. “明星塌房的两个主要原因:一个睡,一个税。 简而言之:该税的税,不该睡的别睡.”


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