A bizarre diplomatic dispute between China and Canada became even stranger Wednesday when China refused to accept the Canadian embassy’s explanation for a months-old order of T-shirts that used the logo of the Wu-Tang Clan, an American hip-hop group, to commemorate Canada’s evacuation of its citizens from Wuhan, China, during the early days of the pandemic.
Chinese social media suddenly began buzzing with images of the T-shirts this week, even though they date back to last summer. The Chinese Foreign Ministry actually lodged a formal complaint with Canada over the logo on the shirts, deeming them an insult to the people of Wuhan and/or the Chinese government.
The T-shirts are a riff on the vaguely batlike logo of the Wu-Tang Clan combined with “Wuhan” written in English. The Chinese claim it is an effort to link the coronavirus, which some suspect of having been spread by bats at the outset, with the city — a connection the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is determined to bully the entire world out of making. The Canadians say their diplomats were just looking for a playful means of celebrating their work on the Wuhan evacuation.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin completely rejected Canada’s explanation for the T-shirt “misunderstanding.”
“We find it hard to believe that the relevant staff member, as a senior diplomat who has worked and lived in China for many years, could make such a stupid mistake unconsciously,” Wang sneered.
China’s state-run Global Times on Wednesday chastised Western media for mocking Beijing’s obsession with the logo and then went really overboard by dragging another bit of bat-related American pop culture into the discussion. The Wu-Tang Clan, you see, has been spotted in the company of … Batman. Case closed, Canadians:
Some Western media, including Reuters, said Beijing was “highly sensitive” about the source of the virus, and has sought to “cast doubt on the notion that it originated in China.”
However, Wu-Tang Clan has previously used that “W” symbol to represent bats in its promotions. In 2019, the American group tweeted a promotional poster featuring the “W” logo with a Batman and several bats.
On Amazon.com, a type of bat themed T-shirt from Wu-Tang Clan was still available on Wednesday.
One of the amusing details of the controversy is that none of the comically incensed Chinese Communists has asked the Wu-Tang Clan if their “W” logo is supposed to represent a bat. They are not shy about publicity, and they adore Chinese culture, or at least certain parts of it. They would probably take a phone call from Beijing.
The band has been using that “W” symbol since 1993. It is one of the most famous and marketable symbols in the American music industry. Its creator, producer Ronald “Mathematics” Bean, said in a February 2007 interview that he was just trying to draw a “W” that looked cool and dangerous:
[The logo] just popped up. Really it was done in one night. When RZA [the de facto leader of Wu-Tang Clan] was still on Tommy Boy [Records], that’s when the Wu-Tang idea really came. I did a sticker for him in graffiti that was a ‘W’. That’s when the first ‘W’ really came. I was in the lab when I was still living in 40 Projects [in Jamaica, Queens] and sat down and that’s what I drew. When they saw it, they were like, ‘This is it’. That was it.
RZA, Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, reportedly liked Bean’s logo design because he thought it looked like something that might take your head clean off if he threw it at you.
RZA said the message of the logo was “Protect Ya Neck,” which became the title of the first Wu-Tang Clan single. Bean’s first draft at a logo included a hand emerging from the “W” holding a severed head, a much less subtle interpretation of the Protect Ya Neck message that would have saved the Canadian government some trouble 30 years later if RZA had approved it.
Whoever commissioned the “Wuhan” Wu-Tang shirt might have found some sardonic connection between the logo, the shape of a bat, and the coronavirus, but Beijing does not seem interested in hearing their explanation. The Canadian diplomats who appropriated the logo should probably have been more worried about provoking the wrath of the Wu-Tang Clan and its lawyers than annoying the Chinese Communist Party. At the time of this writing, Canada does not have formal diplomatic relations with the Wu-Tang Clan, not even a non-aggression pact.