Jan 16, 2008

The Scowling Mao

This piece of news is everywhere today: French car-maker Citroen has apologised to China for running a full-page advertisement in several Spanish newspapers featuring a poster of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong pulling a wry face at a sporty hatch-back.

Under the Biblical quotation "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's", the text talked up Citroen's position as the car sales leader in 2006 and 2007 with a bombastic tone. "It's true, we are leaders, but at Citroen the revolution never stops," the advertisement said. "We are once more going to put in motion all the machinery of our technological ability, in order to repeat in 2008 the successes obtained in previous years," it added.

The digital manipulation of Mao's image and its 'scowling' had infuriated Chinese Internet users who saw it as a slight, it said. "As a Chinese, I felt greatly insulted when seeing this ad," a posting on web portal Tianya said. "It is not only insulting Chairman Mao, but the whole Chinese nation."

So, probably trying to make sure that they can keep a good name in the next big market for car automakers, Citroen had pulled the ad and apologised to China in a letter sent to the Chinese paper. "Citroen expresses regret for any displeasure caused by the advertisement and apologises to all who have been hurt by it," the Global Times quoted the letter as saying. A spokeswoman for Citroen in China confirmed the apology letter. "Citroen reiterates its friendship with the Chinese people, and highly respects China's representative figures and symbols," the spokeswoman told Reuters by telephone.

What you can't find everywhere (so easily) is the ad. So here it is, the Scowling Mao.

Personally, I believe is not such a big deal. But I am not Chinese and I just can't see the image as "disrespectful" considering also that the copy is about being powerful and revolutionary. And I must confess there is a part of me that wants to advice the Chinese to "get used to this, dear; this is part of life and business in the free world."

Opinions? Thoughts? Why is it such a big deal? Is it because of Mao or because of the potential size of China's market?

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