The Chinese Foreign Ministry lodged a formal complaint with Canada on Monday because a Canadian diplomat ordered a T-shirt that appeared to mockingly link the Chinese coronavirus with the city of Wuhan.
Canadian officials said the shirt actually bore the logo of the Wu-Tang Clan, an American hip-hop group, and expressed its regret for any “misunderstandings” on the part of Chinese social media users.
As Reuters noted Tuesday, one of the strangest things about the controversy is how it got started. According to the Canadian embassy in Beijing, the T-shirt was ordered months ago, but for some reason images of it suddenly began circulating on Chinese social media over the weekend.
“The logo of the American group is a stylized ‘W.’ Reports of the T-shirt order circulating on China’s Twitter-like Weibo described it as depicting a bat, without mentioning Wu-Tang Clan. Many scientists suspect bats to have been a reservoir for COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] before it jumped to humans,” Reuters reported.
An image of the T-shirt logo posted by Chinese bloggers shows the stylized, vaguely bat-shaped “W” logo of the Wu-Tang Clan with the word “Wuhan” emblazoned across it:
China's Foreign Ministry says it has lodged a solemn representation with the Canadian Embassy over reports staff ordered t-shirts last year with "Wuhan" and a "bat symbol." Per blogger Zhou Xiaoping, this is the image. Any hip-hop fan can tell you though that's a W for the Wu pic.twitter.com/ooTFzh2oRn
— Austin Ramzy (@austinramzy) February 1, 2021
A suspiciously large number of Chinese “netizens” supposedly jumped to the conclusion that it was mocking the emergence of the coronavirus in Wuhan. The Chinese government is increasingly desperate to squash all discussion of where the coronavirus came from, as Communist Party officials peddle conspiracy theories that it was designed in an American military lab.
“China’s government is extremely sensitive to accusations it was the source of the pandemic and failed to respond quickly enough when cases were first reported in Wuhan,” as the Associated Press delicately explained.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin announced Monday that his government was “very shocked” by the T-shirt and has “lodged representations with Canada, asking for a thorough investigation and a clear explanation.”
“The T-shirt logo designed by a member of the embassy shows a stylized W, and is not intended to represent a bat. It was created for the team of embassy staff working on repatriation of Canadians from Wuhan in early 2020,” a spokesman for the Canadian foreign ministry responded.
The Wu-Tang Clan sells a line of clothing that generally incorporates the band’s logo, which long predates the coronavirus pandemic, and the name of their apparel brand, “Wu Wear.” Members of the band often sport Wu-Wear clothing while performing. The Canadian diplomat who ordered the T-shirts riffed on the Wu-Wear brand name by changing it to “Wuhan,” evidently seeking to commemorate the Canadian government’s massive effort to evacuate its citizens from the epicenter of the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
Both Reuters and the Associated Press hinted that the sudden and bizarre T-shirt controversy was China’s latest attempt to put pressure on the Canadian government, which in 2018 arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to face charges of financial fraud in the United States, and perhaps to distract attention from the long-delayed arrival of World Health Organization investigators in Wuhan.