An altered logo of Wu-Tang Clan has drawn China and Canada into a diplomatic spat.
The logo, printed on T-shirts ordered by a member of the Canadian embassy, has only one difference with the symbol of the New York hip-hop group: the word “Wu-Tang” was replaced with “Wuhan,” the name of the Chinese city where reports of COVID-19 infections emerged.
The Canadian government said the logo was nothing but a stylized “W,” but the Chinese government sees it as a deliberate play on the bat-like pattern aimed at defaming China.
Photos of the T-shirts were first posted in an online forum in January. The author said his friend received the T-shirt orders from a person named Chad Hensler in the summer of 2020, and was asked to ship the clothes to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.
The seller made the T-shirts, but was worried the clothes were part of an “anti-China” scheme, according to the post. The author asked if the T-shirt maker should report the case to the police.
The post and pictures became widely circulated, causing outrage among some Chinese nationalists.
The Wu-Tang logo was created by producer and DJ Mathematics in 1993. The producer has revealed in interviews that he had drawn different versions of stylized “W” in trying to create a symbol that people could remember.
But to many Chinese who have never heard of the hip-hop group, the combination of Wuhan and a bat-like pattern reminds them of the bigotry against Asian people in the early days of the pandemic and the stereotype that Chinese people’s eating habits helped the coronavirus jump to humans.
Overseas internet users have indeed repurposed the Wu-Tang Clan logo to poke fun at the outbreak in Wuhan. And online stores in the U.S. have sold T-shirts featuring a version of the logo paired with the derogatory term “kung flu.”
In a statement, Canadian Foreign Ministry said the T-shirts ordered by its colleagues were part of a personal initiative created for embassy staff who helped repatriate Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020.
“The T-shirt logo designed by a member of the Embassy shows a stylized W, and is not intended to represent a bat,” the statement said. “We regret the misunderstanding.”
Beijing has in recent months pushed back against suggestions that Wuhan was necessarily the origin of the coronavirus, sometimes by promoting misinformation and whipping up nationalistic sentiment.
The Chinese foreign ministry has so far refused to accept Canada’s explanation that the Wuhan T-shirt was a misunderstanding.
“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,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday. “Serious damages have been done by such wrong actions.”
The relationship between Beijing and Ottawa has been tense since 2018, when Canadian police arrested Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S.. Meng is still fighting her extradition to the U.S. in a Canadian court.
Following Meng’s arrest, Beijing detained two Canadian men on spying accusations. The men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been detained for two years and yet to be tried.
Beijing has also threatened retaliations after Canada banned the export of sensitive military items to Hong Kong and promised to boost immigration from the city, in a response to Beijing’s enactment of an expansive national security law in the former British colony.
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