Chinese Pop Singer Under Fire for Japan War Flag Dress

It may only be "retro" fashion, but starlet Vickie Zhao Wei has learned that wearing history is no fickle matter in China.

While outfits worn by Red Guards during Mao Zedong's 1966-76 Cultural Revolution have come into vogue at parties, 1930s-era Japanese wartime gear will forever be out.

Zhao learned her lesson the tough way after a magazine photo of her modelling a mini-dress printed with the old Japanese naval flag triggered a backlash among patriotic fans and media in China, still rife with resentment over Tokyo's past aggression.

A tabloid based in Nanjing, where hundreds of thousands of people were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937, spearheaded a media campaign last week to boycott news of the actress and advertisements she appeared in.

Zhao, who catapulted to fame playing a sassy princess in a wildly popular soap opera set in the 1644-1912 Qing Dynasty, had no choice but to apologise.

"I profoundly feel that I neglected the study of history and was insensitive toward that painful historical period," she wrote in a letter published in state media and on web sites this week.

"As a young actor raised by a nation and a people, I want to tell everyone I am very patriotic."

China's bitter memories of the 1930s-40s Japanese occupation have been refreshed this year by Tokyo's refusal to revise a history book accused of whitewashing Japan's war record and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to a war shrine.

Zhao's own grandfather perished at age 30 fighting the Japanese, said a letter of explanation issued by the Chinese fashion magazine which published the Zhao photo.

The magazine's creative director has already stepped down over the photo shot in New York and published in September, Chinese media said.

Zhao is not the first starlet to endanger her own career in China over with a political no-no.

Mainland authorities officially banned Taiwanese pop star Chang Huei-mei from performing or appearing on advertisements on the mainland for over a year after she sang Taipei's national anthem at President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration last year.

There were no signs of China blacklisting Zhao, who said she did not recognise the print of the red "rising run" emitting rays of light as the hated Japanese symbol.

But after her apology, many of the thousands debating the flap on China's Internet bulletin boards were still irked.

One self-avowed fan of the actress said: "This is no different from a Jew wearing a Nazi banner and proudly publishing it in an Israeli magazine."

The chief editor of a Beijing-based celebrity monthly said China's free-wheeling media had "blown the incident out of proportion to some extent."

But he said he would think twice before featuring Zhao in future issues.

"This sort of incident really gets on people's nerves. What's most appalling is she didn't even know," the editor said.

(China Daily December 13, 2001 )

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