What Brands in China Should Learn From Harper’s Bazaar’s Big Mistake

In a Weibo post on July 7, Harper’s Bazaar China provoked Chinese netizens by appropriating a derogatory term from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Unfortunately, the global media outlet also happened to do this on the anniversary of the Lugou Bridge Incident, which marked the beginning of the full-scale war between China and Japan. In describing the digital health code system during COVID-19, the post quoted the term liangmin zheng (translated as “good-citizen certificate”), which is a phrase that refers to the identification papers given to Chinese citizens living in areas controlled by Japanese forces during World War II.

The magazine responded to criticism by apologizing, stating that it will “engrave patriotism and love for the Party in mind and further improve historical and political education.” The Weibo hashtag “Harper’s Bazaar apologies” received 570 million views within 12 hours, but netizens said the mistake was unforgivable because of the cultural insensitivity behind the use of this term, especially coming from a Chinese team.

Jing Take:

There have been many brand controversies over the years on topics ranging from cultural appropriation to insensitivity towards the Chinese government’s authority, but Harper’s Bazaar China did not learn from these past mistakes or the consequences they brought. In China’s current social media environment, any cultural faux pas is sure to go viral and find intense scrutiny from netizens. Therefore, media outlets, brands, and other fashion players must work diligently to remove any inappropriate social content from their messaging before it goes live. Chinese consumers’ patriotism and political sensitivity have reached new heights post-COVID-19, so market players should make sure to be even more historically, culturally, and politically correct than in the past when operating in the country.

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.

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