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Why Your Chinese Faves Are Dropping Their Endorsement Deals: A (Popheads Exclusive!) Summary of the Xinjiang Cotton ControversyHi, Popheads! So if you lurk over on /r/kpop or you follow Chinese pop culture and entertainment more generally, you may have heard that a bunch of stars are dropping their endorsement contracts with Western companies. Examples include: * Victoria Song , formerly of f(x) * Jackson Wang , formerly of known for both his solo work and being in GOT7 [edit: see comment below ] * Wang Yibo , one of the Untamed/MZDS stars * Zhang Yixing , also known as EXO's Lay The list is apparently growing ; unfortunately I can't read Mandarin and haven't seen a comprehensive list in English yet. (Note that that link goes to a tweet; the Twitter user later issued a correction, saying they meant to writeEason Chan instead of Edison Chen. Also note that said Twitter user appears to take a lot of different political positions than I do and would probably disagree with 99.6% of the post to follow.) (don't have any Chinese faves yet? this quality post by /u/Scylla_and_Charybdis is here for you.) This is almost certainly not going to be the last time that people who work in pop music, or in the entertainment industry more broadly, in China will be required to take particular stances on the companies they work with, just like Western artists have been criticized in the past forplaying particular venues . My goal in this post is to give you some background on the particular controversy that caused this round of public statements, since I don't think it's going away any time either. The locus of the controversy is the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (hereafter just "Xinjiang") innorthwestern China . The majority of people who live in Xinjiang are Uyghur , a longstanding Central Asian Turkic ethnic group. For a while now the Chinese government has been publicly concerned with potential separatist sentiment in Xinjiang, partly because of sporadic violence in the last thirty years (including bombings in 1992, 1997, 2010, and 2014, andriots in Ürümqi, Xinjiang's capital, in 2009). (This essay , by the way, does a very good job of putting China's concerns about terrorism in Xinjiang in the context of global Islamophobia, including American and British Islamophobia.) In 2016 Xi Jinping's government appointed Chen Quanguo, who had previously been in charge in Tibet, as general party secretary. Since Chen's appointment there has been a massive increase insurveillance and detention of Xinjiang residents, mostly Uyghurs, accompanied by the building of a network ofinternment camps , and reports of torture , forced sterilizations , and other human-rights abuses. There are a bunch more sources I can point you to, but this Believer piece , consisting of interviews with people who have escaped Xinjiang or have loved ones in Xinjiang, is one of the best introductions I've seen to the effects of Chen's campaign. Included in that "other human-rights abuses" category is forced labor , particularly in cotton picking . More than a fifth of the world's global cotton trade, by some estimates, originates in Xinjiang, and so a lot—alot—of global apparel companies have Xinjiang somewhere in their supply chain. When this all started to come to light last year, a bunch of Western apparel firms, including H&M, Nike, and Burberry, made statements about trying to get forced labor out of their supply chains. More recently, in January, the United States governmentbanned the importing of cotton or tomatoes from Xinjiang . The Chinese government's line on all of this has consistently been: (1) we're not doing anything wrong; (2) we're allowed to deal with terrorism within our borders the way we see fit; (3) you Western governments have no business lecturing anybody about how to treat ethnic minorities. But there hasn't been, to my knowledge, much widespread pushback specifically in relation to Xinjiang (as opposed to, say, Hong Kong) until this week. Why this week? Because on Monday Canada, the UK, the European Union, and the US simultaneously announced sanctions on four Chinese government officials working in Xinjiang. This has been followed by angry posts on Weibo andInstagram targeting the Western retailers who previously vowed to get Xinjiang cotton out of their supply chains, as well as a condemnation of H&M by Chinese state-owned television, thepossible unraveling of a recently announced deal between Tencent and Burberry , and calls for boycotts. (Admittedly when the South China Morning Post checked in at an H&M store in Beijing they did find shoppers, albeit shoppers on the defensive.) This is why we're getting a new round of public renunciations from Victoria, Jackson, Lay, and their peers. Going forward it wouldn't surprise me if non-Chinese entertainers were under some pressure to take a stand one way or another. For example, Korean idol-pop firms are still interested in the Chinese market (JYP Entertainment just announced a "strategic partnership" with Tencent ) and so their idols might come under fire for having deals with the offending companies. Given the prominent position of Nike and Adidas in the controversy so far, athletes might come under pressure to make statements as well. To close with some editorial points: * Although the criticism of H&M, Nike, et al. is being presented as popular and widespread, with lots of posts on Weibo and such, I would bevery cautious about attributing pro-Chinese-government sentiment to any given person of Chinese citizenship or Han Chinese descent. I myself would not claim to know enough about social-network use in China to say how much of the sentiment it generates is genuine, but therehave been reports in the past about Chinese government employees flooding social networks with pro-government posts, and it's not as if non-Chinese countries are completely unfamiliar with social-media manipulations. In case it needs to be said: if you're going to blame a Chinese person for the atrocities in Xinjiang, blame Xi Jinping andChen Quanguo . Don't blame any ordinary person of Chinese descent any more than you would for the coronavirus . * (On a related note, I have no idea how many of the celebrities listed above absolutely leaped at the chance to post pro-Chinese-government sentiment, and how many felt pressure to do so, and whether that pressure was internal or official or both. There is all sorts of speculation about what happens to celebrities who step out of line, particularly after the still-not-very-well-explained public disappearances and reappearances ofFan Bingbing and Jack Ma . Emphasis on speculation; I think it's perfectly okay to not be in a rush to come to conclusions.) * That said, feel free to express admiration for those who criticize the Chinese government. Which is a roundabout way of saying I think there are some readers of this sub who could learn to loveDenise Ho pretty quickly. * Finally (self-promotion alert!) if you are at all curious about how this all looks from the Kazakhstani side (Kazakhstan bordering Xinjiang, and a fair number of Kazakhs living in Xinjiang, and being subjected to the same suspicion and surveillance as the Uyghur population), and/or want a summary of how the Chinese government tends to like to fight its PR wars on popular-culture fronts, Iwrote on those topics last year as part of an essay series on Ninety One and idol pop more generally.