The State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has banned a Nike television commercial depicting top NBA rookie LeBron James battling an animated kung fu master, two women in traditional Chinese garb and a pair of dragons.
The commercial, which primarily targeted youthful viewers, was broadcast on local Chinese stations and on China Central Television's national sports channel before it was pulled off the air in November.
On Monday, SARFT said on its website that the commercial violates regulations that require all advertisements to uphold national dignity and respect the motherland's culture. "It also goes against rules that prohibit content in advertisements that blasphemes national practices and cultures."
In March this year, the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council issued a package of proposals to improve the ethical, ideological and moral standards of children and young people across the country. SARFT has played a vital role in the campaign.
The administration also indicated that Chinese viewers had expressed indignation over the ad.
"It was never intended to hurt anybody or any culture or anything like that," James said after practice in Cleveland on Monday, according to the Associated Press. "We put the ads together basically for kids."
James reportedly expressed concern about the feelings of his fans in China. He expects to be on the US basketball team that plays in Beijing at the next Summer Olympics.
"I'll be there in 2008, so maybe they'll love me a little more when I get there," the AP quoted James as saying.
Maurice Zhou, a spokesman in Shanghai for Nike, said that the company "respected the government's decision" and that it did not intend to insult or disparage China or its symbols.
"We wanted to stress a positive life attitude, encourage the young to face fear bravely and forge ahead, through the multicultural ad," said Zhou. "The cultural elements in the ad are only metaphors for various fears."
"Nike has a very good public image in China," added Zhou. "We didn't mean to offend Chinese consumers, let alone to insult China."
Zhou said that Nike does not expect the banning of the commercial to have a negative impact on company growth in China. He said no decision has yet been made about a possible replacement ad.
Nike is a major player in the race to cash in on China's basketball craze and the popularity of James and other NBA players such as the country's homegrown star, Yao Ming.
(China Daily, China.org.cn December 7, 2004)