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Zhang Zhehan accused of ‘unpatriotic behaviour’ in latest China celeb scandal

Zhang, who rose to prominence after starring in hit TV series Word of Honour, sparked controversy after old photos emerged of the actor visiting controversial shrines dedicated to Japan's war history.

Zhang Zhehan accused of ‘unpatriotic behaviour’ in latest China celeb scandal

Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Social media has proven to be a double-edged sword for Chinese ambassadors of luxury and lifestyle brands. While a large following means a legion of fans to promote to, social media postings also open the floodgates to scandal and criticism.

A month after Kris Wu’s explosive scandal, Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan is embroiled in a political controversy after Instagram posts of the actor visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo were exposed on Weibo.

The Yasukuni Shrine was built to honour some of Japan’s war dead. Photos of Zhang attending a wedding at Nogi Shrine, another infamous shrine that honours imperial Japanese military officers who invaded China during World War II, also emerged.

Chinese media criticised Zhang of unpatriotic behaviour, while netizens called out the actor for being insensitive towards the suffering China experienced.

More than 25 brands including Lanvin, Longines, Pandora, Coke, Clinique and more swiftly terminated their partnerships with Zhang. Lanvin has also deleted all social media posts featuring Zhang, including its most recent Qixi (Chinese Valentine's Day) campaign. 

Photo of Zhang Zhehan visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. (Photo: Weibo)

The China Association of Performing Arts, a semi-official organisation, also proposed to boycott the 30-year-old actor on Aug 15.

The Yasukuni Shrine is a spiritual tool and symbol of Japanese militarism for waging foreign wars of aggression, and a place for Japan’s right-wing forces to deny history and glorify wars of aggression,” the association said in a statement.

Zhang had issued an apology on Aug 13, saying: “Today, I deeply apologise for my past ignorance, my shame and especially my previous improper behaviour. I attended a friend’s wedding in Japan. It is my mistake for the oversight of [not knowing] the historical background behind the wedding venue and the political background of the other wedding guests.

When I used to travel everywhere, I liked to casually take pictures. Due to the lack of understanding for the local architecture and the history and being careless about the content when taking pictures, when I took the pictures, it resulted in content that seriously harmed the feelings of compatriots. I also solemnly apologise here, I am sorry.”

However, his apology has failed to appease critics. Chinese newspaper People’s Daily commented, “As a public figure, you really shouldn’t have such a lack of historical knowledge and be totally unaware of the nation’s suffering”.

China Central Television said in another commentary that Zhang had “touched the scars of history”.“As Chinese, we should remember history and build on it,” it said. 

Meanwhile, Chinese social media platforms Weibo and Douyin have since deleted Zhang’s accounts. “As public figures with a lot of fans, being knowledgeable of history should be a basic professional ethical standard that they must stick to,” Sina Weibo said in a statement.

Source: CNA/st/ds