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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)

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. 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 hotpotambassador.com. 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 and Covid19

King of Workout Livestream: Liu Genghong Has Become an Online Hit During Shanghai Lockdown

Liu Genghong (Will Liu) is leading his best lockdown life.

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With their exercise livestreams, Liu and his wife are bringing some positive vibes to Shanghai and the rest of China in Covid times, getting thousands of social media users to jump along with them.

On Friday, April 22, the hashtag “Why Has Liu Genghong Become An Online Hit” (#为什么刘畊宏突然爆火#) was top trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Liu Genghong (刘畊宏, 1972), who is also known as Will Liu, is a Taiwanese singer and actor who is known for playing in dramas (Pandamen 熊貓人), films (True Legend 苏乞儿), and releasing various music albums (Rainbow Heaven 彩虹天堂). He is a devout Christian.

Besides all of his work in the entertainment business, Liu is also a fitness expert. In 2013, Liu participated in the CCTV2 weight loss programme Super Diet King (超级减肥王, aka The Biggest Loser) as a motivational coach, and later also became a fitness instructor for the Jiangsu TV show Changing My Life (减出我人生), in which he also helped overweight people to become fit. After that, more fitness programs followed, including the 2017 Challenge the Limit (全能极限王) show.

During the Covid outbreak in Shanghai, the 50-year-old Liu Genghong has unexpectedly become an online hit for livestreaming fitness routines from his home. Together with his wife Vivi Wang, he streams exercise and dance videos five days of the week via the Xiaohongshu app and Douyin.

In his livestreams, Liu and his wife appear energetic, friendly, happy and super fit. They exercise and dance to up-beat songs while explaining and showing their moves, often encouraging those participating from their own living rooms (“Yeah, very good, you’re doing well!”). Some of their livestreams attract up to 400,000 viewers tuning in at the same time.

The couple, both in lockdown at their Shanghai home, try to motivate other Shanghai residents and social media users to stay fit. Sometimes, Liu’s 66-year-old mother in law also exercises with them, along with the children.

“I’ve been exercising watching Liu and his wife for half an hour, they’re so energetic and familiar, they’ve already become my only family in Shanghai,” one Weibo user says.

“I never expected Liu Genghong to be a ‘winner’ during this Covid epidemic in Shanghai,” another person writes.

Along with Liu’s online success, there’s also a renewed interest in the Jay Chou song Herbalist’s Manual (本草纲目), which is used as a workout tune, combined with a specific dance routine. Liu is also a good friend and fitness pal to Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou.

This week, various Chinese news outlets such as Fengmian News and The Paper have reported on Liu’s sudden lockdown success. Livestreaming workout classes in general have become more popular in China since the start of Covid-19, but there reportedly has been no channel as popular as that of Liu Genghong.

The channel’s success is partly because of Liu’s fame and contagious enthusiasm, but it is also because of Vivi Wang, whose comical expressions during the workouts have also become an online hit.

While many netizens are sharing their own videos of exercizing to Liu’s videos, there are also some who warn others not to strain themselves too quickly.

“I’ve been inside for over 40 days with no exercise” one person writes: “I did one of the workouts yesterday and my heart nearly exploded.” “I feel fine just watching,” others say: “I just can’t keep up.”

Watch one of Liu’s routines via Youtube here, or here, or here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Celebs

Weibo Shuts Down Rumors of Tong Liya’s Alleged Marriage to CMG President Shen Haixiong

The censorship surrounding the Tong Liya story almost drew more attention than the actual rumors themselves.

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The famous actress and dancer Tong Liya (佟丽娅, 1983) has had an eventful year. After hosting the CCTV Spring Festival Gala in 2020, she performed at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala in February of 2021 and in May she announced that after seven years of marriage, she finalized her divorce with actor and director Chen Sicheng (陈思诚).

Tong Liya is of Xibe ethnicity and was born in Xinjiang. The former beauty pageant and award-winning actress is known for her roles in many films and TV series, such as those in The Queens and Beijing Love Story. She also starred in the 2021 Chinese historical film 1921, which focuses on the founding of the Communist Party of China.

This month, online rumors about Tong flooded the internet, alleging that she was recently remarried to Shen Haixiong (慎海雄, 1967), the deputy minister of the Party’s Central Propaganda Department and the President of the CMG (China Media Group), which includes CCTV, China National Radio, and China Radio International.

Some of the rumors included those claiming the actress was previously Shen’s mistress, or netizens connecting Tong Liya’s relations with such an influential and powerful person to her role at the previous CCTV Spring Gala Festival.

But these rumors did not stay online for long, and the quick censorship itself became somewhat of a spectacle. As reported by China Digital Times, the topic ‘Tong Liya’s Remarriage’ (‘佟丽娅再婚’) was completely taken offline.

Following the rumors and censorship, it first was announced that Tong reported the online rumors about her to the police, with the hashtag “Tong Liya Reports the Case to Authorities” (#佟丽娅报案#) receiving over 310 million clicks. On December 23rd, the hashtag “Beijing Police is Handling Tong Liya’s Report” (#北京警方受理佟丽娅报案#) went viral online, attracting over 1.7 billion (!) views on Weibo within three days.

The Beijing Haidian police statement on Weibo is as follows:

In response to the recent rumors on the Internet, the public security authorities have accepted Tong Liya’s report, and the case is now under investigation. The internet is not a place beyond the law, and illegal acts such as starting rumors and provoking trouble will be investigated and punished according to the law.”

The statement led to some confused responses among netizens who wanted to know more about what was actually reported and what it is the police are exactly ‘investigating.’

On Twitter, Vice reporter Viola Zhou wrote that the censorship “angered many young people,” some of whom lost their social media accounts for discussing Tong Liya’s second marriage: “It’s now prompting a mass pushback against the potential abuse of censorship power.”

In an attempt to circumvent censorship, and perhaps also ridicule it, some netizens even resorted to morse code to write about Tong Liya.

One Weibo post about the issue by Legal Daily received over 3000 comments, yet none were displayed at the time of writing.

The case is allegedly still being investigated by Beijing authorities.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

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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