All it took was a short social media post in China to spark massive public backlash against H&M and other foreign brands for expressing concern over forced labour allegations in Xinjiang region. “Spreading rumours to boycott Xinjiang cotton, while also wanting to make money in China? Wishful thinking!” read the post by the Communist Party Youth League, along with the Swedish retailer’s announcement last year that it would stop sourcing from Xinjiang. Shares, likes and comments began rolling in before erupting into nationalist fury, egged on by Chinese state media. Within four hours of the initial post, Chinese actor Huang Xuan cut ties with H&M, saying he “firmly opposed any attempt to discredit the country and human rights in any way!” Plenty of celebrities followed suit, axing partnerships with Nike, Adidas, Calvin Klein, Puma and others, including entertainer Song Qian, pop icon Wang Yibo, Uyghur actress Dilraba Dilmurat, Hong Kong Cantopop singer Eason Chan and Taiwanese cellist Ouyang Nana. Chinese celebrities have long remained apolitical lest they fall foul of the government. But as the ruling Party has encouraged nationalist fervour – to push back against pressure from the West, including coordinated sanctions over human rights concerns in Xinjiang – celebrities are being forced to pick sides. If they want to stay in the limelight and continue their careers as models, actors and influencers, the only viable option is to support Beijing.
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