What Happened: One month after Kris Wu’s explosive scandal, Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan is embroiled in a serious political controversy regarding the nation’s war history. On August 12, Instagram posts of the actor visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo — a controversial symbol of Japan’s war legacy — were exposed on Weibo.
He issued a public apology letter today claiming he was sorry for his ignorance about the historical background of the shrine, which commemorates the names of over 1,000 convicted Japanese war criminals. However, China’s official media, People’s Daily, immediately criticized his statement, pointing out that “as a public figure, he has been deficient in historical knowledge, and completely unaware of the nation’s trauma, which is totally unreasonable.”
The Jing Take: Zhang garnered a cult social following within one year, thanks to being cast in the boys’ love drama Word of Honor, released earlier this year. This newfound fame fueled his business value, moving luxury brands like the French fashion house Lanvin and the Japanese jeweler Tasaki to appoint him as their brand ambassador.
Compared to brands impacted by Kris Wu’s scandal, the international players hiring Zhang for partnerships and endorsements reacted much more swiftly this time. As of this publication, Pandora announced it was terminating its partnership with Zhehan, and Lanvin deleted all relevant posts featuring him on social media, including its most recent Qixi campaign.
Netizens’ enraged sentiments on his ignorance of the shrine’s historical trauma have sounded the alarm for luxury brands. Although many brands underlined that their partnerships were driven by a synergy between the celebrity personalities and their images (as opposed to social traffic), they must be more aware of cultural sensitivities in China and do more in-depth background research on celebrity profiles before reaching agreements on partnerships and endorsements.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.