“Flattery toward Japan” lands Nongfu Spring in hot water

The Chinese bottled water and soft drinks brand Nongfu Spring has been accused of “flattery toward Japan” by two 7-Eleven branches in Jiangsu province, adding to an ongoing debate in the country about the perils of overdoing patriotism. Nongfu Spring’s founder Zhong Shanshan is currently China’s richest person with an estimated net worth of 63 billion USD.

On March 8, two 7-Eleven branches in Changzhou, a prefecture-level city in Jiangsu, announced they would stop selling Nongfu Spring products via a shopfront notice. According to images widely shared on social media, the notice read: “We will cease the sale of related products from Nongfu Spring. Products from all countries are available for purchase, but items endorsing Chinese companies’ flattery towards Japan will not be sold.”

The furore stemmed from the packaging of the brand’s green tea drink, which features a building the 7-Eleven employees believed to be a Japanese wooden pagoda. In fact, pagodas are a result of transnational cultural exchange. Japan’s pagoda designs are derived from Chinese pagodas, which are in turn thought to be inspired by Indian stupa.

Nongfu Spring’s regional headquarters in Jiangsu have since clarified via WeChat that the boycott was the personal choice of employees at the two branches in Changzhou and did not reflect an official stance of the company.

The actions of the 7-Eleven employees have been widely panned by official news sources in China. The local government in Zhejiang province publicly described it as a “desecration” and “exploitation” of patriotism, done to gain views online. Some netizens pointed out the irony in refusing to sell supposedly Japanese-influenced goods, given that 7-Eleven itself has been Japanese-owned since 1999.

A similar incident occurred in January when a Nanjing-based vlogger took to social media to harangue a local mall because the red circles on one of its shopfronts resembled Japan’s national flag. State media vehemently criticised the move and the man’s WeChat account was terminated. Following the incident, many articles have appeared online warning against the dangers of extreme patriotism.


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