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China’s Foreign Ministry Accidentally Lodges Complaint Over Wu-Tang T-Shirt

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China’s Foreign Ministry was left holding the stick this week, having misinterpreted the punchline of a particularly intercultural graphic tee.

In a press conference, a journalist from state-funded news outlet The Paper asked officials about staff members at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, who had apparently been photographed wearing T-shirts with images of a “Wuhan bat” design.

“We have also taken notice,” said Wang Wenbin, the ministry’s spokesperson. “Covid-19 is the common enemy of mankind. Both the WHO and the international community clearly oppose the association of the virus with specific countries.”

“Those involved are acting seriously inconsistent, deviating from the stance of Canada’s government,” he concluded. “The Chinese side is shocked by this and has lodged stern representations with the Canadian Embassy in China, demanding that the Canadian side immediately thoroughly investigate the incident and give China a clear explanation.”

Yikes. The only problem? There was no “Wuhan bat” design.

The design was, in fact, a play on the logo of seminal hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan.

Related:

Wu-Tang Slang: An Abridged Glossary of Hip Hop’s Most Iconic Group

Blogger Zhou Xiaoping wrote up the story in Mandarin — not only were staff at the Canadian Embassy wearing the shirts, but they had custom-ordered the clothing themselves.

“The T-shirt logo designed by a member of the embassy shows a stylized W, and is not intended to represent a bat,” said a spokesperson for Canada’s foreign service. “It was created for the team of embassy staff working on repatriation of Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020. We regret the misunderstanding.”

It should be noted, other variations of this joke are making the rounds online, and some of them do include xenophobic bat imagery. But it’s not surprising that a room of aging diplomats may have failed to fully grasp those details.

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, some commenters were up in arms over the perceived sleight. But on Twitter, it was a different story, as users delighted in the moment of cultural disconnect.

Adan Kohnhorst
Adan Kohnhorst is a Shanghai-based writer, producer, and multimedia artist, and the Associate Editor at RADII. His work has been featured in publications such as Maxim and the Chinese-language StreetVoice, and he’s an active member of the hip hop and DIY music scenes in Shanghai, NYC, and Dallas. He learned Mandarin in high school so he could train at the Shaolin Temple, but now just uses it to interview rappers. He blogs about China and Asia on Instagram: @this.is.adan