The picture book by Constanze Steindamm and Dorothea Tust was based on scientific advice from a tropical medicine institute in Hamburg, located in the country's north. In the book, Anna and Moritz's father says: "The virus came from China and has spread out from there across the world." This did not sit well with both Chinese diplomats and Chinese parents in Germany, who proceeded to slam the book in a social media campaign.
Many Chinese based in Germany took to Amazon and gave the book a one-star rating, claiming it was "spreading racism among children in Germany." Some Chinese residents also vowed to sue Carlsen Verlag and to protest against "racism and discrimination." The Chinese Consulate General in Hamburg subsequently picked up the campaign and "lodged solemn representations" against the book's publisher.
Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times said in a March 8 piece that "the Chinese community believes a simple apology is not enough and [asks] for the recall of the book." It quoted a Chinese lawyer in Germany, who remarked that the book has "caused psychological trauma to the Chinese community, especially to the kids." The lawyer continued: "For such reasons, Chinese people in Germany had a stronger reaction than usual about this children's book that may trigger racial discrimination and hatred."
Carlsen Verlag eventually yielded to the coordinated campaign against the book. "The statement on the origins of the virus that a child encounters in the book reflected the state of the reporting at that time," it said.
The publisher then apologized for the book's content: "We wouldn't put it that way today. If the phrases have hurt the feelings of any of our readers, we are very sorry. This wasn't what we intended and we apologize to those affected." It added that "copies that are still available will be destroyed" and that "the next edition [will] be corrected." (Related: Chinese Communist subversion of the WHO undermined global pandemic response.)
Carlsen Verlag was not the only company that submitted to the demands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Many other firms have kowtowed to CCP pressure after relentless social media campaigns. These companies emerge from the experience with the major learning that nudging the sleeping dragon is not a good idea. (Related: All the international brands that have apologized to China.)
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is one such company that yielded to Chinese pressure, partly because it fears losing a possibly lucrative market. The U.S. basketball league learned this lesson the hard way back in 2019.
Erstwhile Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressed his support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in an October 2019 tweet. His tweet triggered a massive backlash toward the Rockets and the NBA in general. Chinese sponsors backed out of deals, home-grown sports brand suspended their endorsements with NBA stars and exhibition games were canceled.
The league distanced itself from Morey's tweet, calling it "regrettable" and acknowledging that his statement "deeply offended many of [the NBA's] friends and fans in China." Former Rockets player James Harden apologized on behalf of his then-manager, expressing appreciation for the team's Chinese fans.
"We apologize, we love China [and] we love playing here. We go there once or twice a year and they show us the most support and love. We appreciate them as a fan base and we love everything they're about. We appreciate the support they give us individually, and as an organization," Harden said.
Morey himself later retracted his stance and issued an apology. His post said: "I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China." One year after the fiasco, Morey left the Rockets to join the Philadelphia 76ers. But regardless of his retraction, the NBA paid a costly price as a result of his tweet.
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