Chinese netizens have slammed popular South Korean reality game show Running Man for placing the Chinese and Taiwanese flags side by side in a Monopoly-inspired board game, as the move suggested that the two are on equal footing.
The words Beijing and Taipei were shown alongside the flags respectively.
Many netizens were angered as the show, which has a global viewership of more than 2 million, supposedly advocated Taiwanese independence. They vowed to show their displeasure by boycotting it.
China considers the self-ruled island to be a wayward province that has to be brought back to the fold of the mainland, and has not ruled out the use of force to do so.
However, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said Beijing needs to accept that Taiwan is "an independent country already".
Calls for boycott as netizens accused the show of supporting Taiwan's independence
Netizens took to Weibo with screenshots of the offending board game as soon as the particular scene was aired on Monday, Dec. 7, causing the controversy to trend on the social media platform.
"I don't think I can proudly say that I used to watch Running Man."
"Recently I've been seeing this happen to other fans, and now the same has happened to me... How should I describe my feelings, I feel quite conflicted now. The show that I chased after for so long has suddenly crossed my bottom line... I don't really know what to say... Anyway, bye bye."
Global Times, known for its hawkish and nationalistic views, reported that posts related to the offending episode received more than 1.5 million views in just a few hours.
The episode was reportedly taken off Chinese video-sharing platform Bilibili.
Much of the anger felt by netizens, however, was directed towards producers of the show, and not the members of Running Man, many of whom had been friendly with China and Chinese viewers.
"Why do people always push the blame onto the members? Some even say Yoo Jae-seok can be replaced, but that doesn't make sense as he has always been an MC, and not a producer. If the producer screwed up, then find that person to get payback. Why should dirty water be splashed on members who have not expressed their stance?"
Not all dropping the show
But not all Chinese netizens have joined in the call to boycott the show.
Die-hard fans said they felt conflicted about the incident as they were unsure if they should abandon the show just because of one mistake, albeit a heavy one that crossed China's bottom line -- Taiwan is a "core interest" to Beijing that has no room for negotiation.
Nevertheless, they agreed that the show owes the Chinese an apology.
"How should I say this. While I was angry since this started trending, I've stanned these people for 10 years. We will not scapegoat anyone for the producing team's mistake, some asked why haven't any of the members pointed it (mistake on the board game) out, and I don't dare to jump to conclusions on this.
Perhaps they really didn't know. But I really can't bring myself to drop the show. Hopefully the producers come out with an apology. I'm still sticking by the hope that my beloved show would not disappoint us fans."
"I was talking about this with my dormmate tonight, and I also wonder if there is something wrong with me. I can't bring myself to abandon them (the members) either. This show has been my only solace at my lowest points, since 14 years ago till now."
The beef between Chinese netizens and South Korea
This episode is the latest in a string of incidents where Chinese netizens took offence at South Korea for perceived disrespect and insult to China.
Back in October, they were angered by the remarks made by Kim Nam-joon, leader of South Korean boyband BTS, on the Korean war.
In their acceptance speech for an award given to recognise their contribution to the development of relations between the United States and South Korea, Kim said they will "always remember the history of pain that our two nations shared together and the sacrifices of countless men and women".
Social media users in China took offence to the remarks, and accused the band of neglecting the feelings of the Chinese people.
The Chinese Communist Party has portrayed the Korean war as the result of American imperialism, while leaving out the fact that it was North Korea's invasion into South Korea that led to the intervention by U.S.-led United Nations forces in the first place.
Such a narrative is taught in schools countrywide, which perhaps contributes to the different perspective the Chinese hold towards the war.
The war even became known as one of the three events that formed the founding myth for the early People's Republic of China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping had also stressed ahead of the 70th anniversary of the war this year that China made the "historic decision" to fight the war so they can "Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea in order to safeguard peace and resist aggression", Xinhua reported.
In yet another incident where Chinese viewers took offence at remarks made by South Korean celebrities, Chinese netizens were incensed when singer Lee Hyo-ri suggested "Mao" as her Chinese name for her character in a show so they can be "more global".
Netizens accused Lee of belittling Mao Zedong, the founder of communist China.
After the producers of the "Hangout with Yoo" show posted a statement, they continued to demand an apology from Lee and flooded her Instagram with angry comments as they thought the statement was not sincere enough, The Korea Herald reported.
A dispute between people from both sides even took place over pickled vegetables after false reports emerged in China that claimed the country won global certification for its production of the Korean dish kimchi.
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Top image via Kocowa