A Wu-Tang Parody T-shirt Sparked an International Incident Between China and Canada
China and Canada are in the midst of a tense international incident right now—over a T-shirt.
Last summer, Chad Hensler, a staffer at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, reportedly designed shirts parodying the Wu-Tang Clan “W” logo, with “Wuhan” written in the middle of the logo. Hensler ordered them from a Chinese T-shirt maker.
The design recently began making the rounds on the internet in China, generating social media backlash from critics who thought the “W” was a bat, thus insinuating China was responsible for the origin and spread of COVID-19.
That forced Canadian government officials to issue an apology and an explanation to their Chinese counterparts.
— Stereogum (@stereogum) February 4, 2021
“The T-shirt logo designed by a member of the embassy shows a stylized 'W,' and is not intended to represent a bat,” Canadian foreign ministry spokesman Christelle Chartrand said in a statement, according to the South China Morning Post. “It was created for the team of embassy staff working on repatriation of Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020. We regret the misunderstanding.”
But Chinese officials were not satisfied with the explanation, calling it "not convincing." A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said this week that they believed it was a purposeful dig at China.
“It is beyond our belief that senior diplomats who have been working and living in China for years could make such a stupid mistake inadvertently,” the spokesperson said.
Obviously, the Wu-Tang logo is a “W,” not a bat. Anyone familiar with the rap group can tell you that. But, it's also easy to see why Chinese government officials, who likely know little if anything about Wu-Tang Clan, would be on edge here. Over the past year, rumors and conspiracy theories have swirled about China's role in the pandemic, with Wuhan often at the center of them.
That, and relations between China and Canada are already strained. The Associated Press reports:
The controversy is a further irritant to relations between the countries that have nosedived in the past two years over China’s demand that Canada release a top executive of communications giant Huawei who is wanted on fraud charges in the United States.
Meng Wanzhou, who is also the daughter of the company’s founder, denies the charges. China says her case is politically motivated as part of a U.S. effort to stifle the nation’s global economic expansion. Her lawyers argue she has been subjected to abuse of process and should be freed.
Canada arrested Meng at Vancouver’s airport in late 2018. In apparent retaliation, China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, and sentenced a convicted Canadian drug smuggler to death in a sudden retrial.
Interestingly, this isn't the first time something like this has happened. In 2018, Gap, the U.S. apparel retailer, apologized after Chinese social media users noticed that a T-shirt design omitted Taiwan from a map of China. That wasn't quite on the same level as this latest shirt mishap, but it shows how sensitive China is about its image—even when it's on apparel.