In 1947 French fashion designer Christian Dior unveiled his first collection. It was noticeably different to the boxy, functional outfits worn by women at the time. The aesthetic was dubbed the ‘new look’ and such was its popularity that the label soon gained an unofficial catchphrase: “J’adore Dior”.
Fast forward 70 or so years to modern China, and Dior is facing a situation where it risks being abhorred rather than adored.
On October 17 the brand was forced to issue an apology after company representatives at a university recruitment event showed a map of China without the island of Taiwan (according to Beijing’s One-China policy the island is a renegade province).
Students highlighted the gaffe on social media and LVMH, the company that owns the brand, was quick to make a fulsome apology. “Dior always respects and maintains the principle of one China; strictly maintains China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; and cherishes the feelings of the Chinese people,” it said through its official Sina Weibo account.
The fashion house promised that it would “prevent similar mistakes happening again in the future”.
As readers of Week in China will know, Dior joins a long line of international brands that have felt the need to apologise for upsetting their Chinese customers. Earlier this month, America’s National Basketball Association saw decades of promotional and public relations work undone by a single tweet from the general manager of the Houston Rockets about politics. Chinese companies responded by pulling sponsorships and China’s state broadcaster CCTV refused to show any NBA games (for more on what happened, see WiC470).
The NBA’s commissioner Adam Silver has said losses from the debacle are already “substantial”.
Dior’s case also illustrates increased sensitivity among the general public on matters of Chinese territory and sovereignty. In the past, it seemed to be the government leading the charge on perceived infractions – for example, last year’s insistence that international airlines label Taiwan as part of China on their websites.
In more recent cases, though, the public has been more proactive in picking up on similar “errors” in company material.
In this example Dior representatives briefly showed a map of China as part of a short presentation to university students at Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou. A student immediately queried why Taiwan wasn’t on the map and was unsatisfied when the Dior reps replied that it was only intended to be a map of mainland China.
“I understand you manage [mainland] China, but your map says China. I still think you need to include Taiwan,” the student insisted, noting that another island (Hainan) was featured.
Beijing began tightening control of map production earlier this year as part of wider attempts to strengthen Chinese claims to disputed regions such as the South China Sea and parts of the Himalayas that are also claimed by India (see WiC441).
In another case similar to Dior’s, an IT lecturer at Sydney University was forced to apologise in 2017 for using a map which didn’t correspond to his Chinese students’ views of their national borders.
Meanwhile mainland media has applauded the Zhejiang student for challenging Dior. “Chinese people now have strong vigilance and sensitivity to maps, national flags… a simple and warm patriotic passion has formed… Only by recognising the harm of ‘problem maps’ can we act actively and consciously resist them,” celebrated one of the commentaries on Eastday.com.
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