K-pop band BTS targeted by Chinese internet users for commenting on...

Von Oiwan Lam

China’s online patriots target internationally renowned K-pop band BTS after group leader Kim Nan-joon paid tribute to the war veterans of South Korea and the United States on October 8th.

Nan-joon, also known by his stage name RM, made a taped acceptance speech for the James A. Van Fleet Prize, an award from the US-based non-profit Korea Society.

BTS. Photo: Wikicommons.

Here are the words of Nan-joon that angered Chinese nationalists:

This year’s Korea Society 2020 Gala is particularly significant as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War. We will always remember the history of pain our two nations had [US and South Korea] shared together and the victims of countless men and women … As members of the global community, we should build deeper understanding and solidarity in order to be happier together.

Approximately 3 million people were killed in the Korean War (1950-1953), half of them civilians. After Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, the Korean Peninsula was split into two separate states, one in the north that was supported by the USSR and one in the south that was supported by the United States. Both governments claimed sovereignty over the entire peninsula, and the war began after the North Korean army invaded the south in June 1950.

The war claimed the lives of 406,000 North Korean soldiers, 217,000 South Korean soldiers, 600,000 Chinese soldiers who fought on the North Korean side, and 36,574 US soldiers, according to statistics CNN.

Chinese internet users were angry that Nan-joon did not recognize the sacrifices made by the Chinese people. Comments like “BTS out of China” flooded Weibo and on October 11th, BTS became the top search result on the social media platform.

In anticipation of boycott calls, South Korean companies such as Hyundai and Samsung, which do business in China, have removed all BTS-related promotional material from China’s online stores. Meanwhile, Chinese fan clubs from BTS https://twitter.com/CtrlV_1230/status/1315643298069979137 Purchases of the group’s new album.

Korean War

Photo: Wikicommons.

Chinese state media welcomed the reactions of Internet users. For example, Referenznachrichten, a sales outlet affiliated with the state news agency Xinhua, posted on Weibo:

BTS touched the “red line” of history and national sovereignty shared by Chinese internet users (…). Chinese internet users believe that the nation should stand before its idols. This should also serve as a signal to other foreign artists.

Shen Yi, professor of international relations at Fudan University, said of Weibo that simply receiving the Korea Society’s James Van Fleet Award makes BTS “American propagandists.”

Such allegations were widely reported in South Korea and triggered a backlash – including from BTS fans. Some Korean columnists even suggested that South Korea and its allies in the Korean War counter-boycott China.

On Twitter, many users responded to the Chinese response:

Some found the Chinese argument incomprehensible and unreasonable:


@Solitude_Sola sees the incident as an ideological battle over the history of the Chinese Communist Party:

If BTS has insulted China, it means the witch hunt for Chinese criminals has entered Phase 2.0. In the past, they only targeted comments that were directly related to China. If your comment is different from their understanding of the story, or if your memory is different from their politically correct memory, then you will be considered humiliating to China. So the right way is to proactively “shame” China instead of being passively labeled as such.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong urged other internet users to stand up for BTS:

In defense of the BTS, Commissioner Mo Jong Hwa responsible for the administration of the Korean labor force said:

The fact that BTS mentioned Korea’s alliance with the US is encouraging. Chinese internet users should be ashamed to speak about this topic. I think they are 100% wrong in claiming that BTS should have realized the damage North Korea’s allies have suffered.

To curb the damage the incident could do to China-South Korea relations, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attempted to cool the patriotic sentiment at the ministry’s regular October 12 press conference:

We should all learn lessons from history and look forward to the future, make peace and strengthen friendship.

This article originally appeared on Global Voices.

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