What Does A K-Pop Boy Band Controversy Say About Chinese Netizens?

What Happened: An event that was supposed to be a happy occasion for US and Korean fans of the popular K-pop boy band BTS ended up causing a national controversy in China.

On Oct. 7, the New York-based non-profit organization Korea Society gave BTS the General James A. Van Fleet Award for distinguished Koreans or Americans who have made “outstanding contributions to the promotion of the US-Korea relations.” In their recipient speech, the seven-member band took turns emphasizing the “connection and solidarity” between Korea and the US while commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. It was that latest topic that some Chinese netizens considered insensitive. During the war, China supported North Korea, while the US had backed South Korea.

The Korean electronics company Samsung has since removed BTS-editioned smartphones and earbuds from Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com in China, according to the Financial Times. Over the last two days, the controversy quickly escalated to the level of an international dispute. Foreign affairs officials from both countries responded by saying they should commit to achieving good Sino-Korean relations.

Jing Take: Since brands are adept at analyzing online consumers, they should try to go a step further and study the characteristics of Chinese netizens on Weibo when a crisis like this unfolds. That’s because, even though they are not necessarily luxury customers, netizens are a group that has control over mainstream public opinion.

A major factor behind this controversy is the Sino-centric netizen world view, as that group will only accept a Chinese version of history, and it expects the rest of the world to do the same. Yet, concerned individuals cannot expect Weibo or the Chinese government to help calm outrage, as the latter would much prefer netizens to react this way for the benefit of political unity.

At the time of this publication, the two main relevant Weibo hashtags #BTS Insults China (#防弹少年团辱华#) and #Korean Foreign Affairs Responds to BTS Incident (#韩国外交部回应防弹少年团事件#) have been viewed by 46.8 million and 200 million times.

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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