Wang Gang, a Chinese internet celebrity chef with millions of followers, has been attacked over the past few days by thousands of nationalist netizens over his tutorial video on how to prepare egg fried rice.
The irate netizens believe the video was intended to satirize Mao Anying, the son of Mao Zedong, the former paramount Chinese leader and founder of the People's Republic of China.
According to a long-circulated rumor, Mao Anying was making egg fried rice when he was killed by an airstrike during the 1950-53 Korean War. The term "egg fried rice" has thus taken on a sensitive political connotation on the Chinese internet.
The since-deleted video was posted on Monday (November 27). Over the course of 10 minutes, Wang Gang instructed viewers how to make a bowl of egg fried rice. The seemingly mundane tutorial infuriated some netizens, who claimed Wang Gang was insinuating a secret celebration of Mao Anying's death on November 25, 1950.
'Egg fried rice' considered code
There are various accounts of the circumstances of the younger Mao's death. In the biography A True Man — Peng Dehuai, published by the China People's Publishing House, the writing team states that Mao was cooking scrambled egg rice in the shelter office of Peng Dehuai, the highest Chinese military commander in the war, when the United Nations Command's bombers struck. The smoke from the cooking was detected by the Allied forces, leading to the bombing and Mao's death.
This theory is not universally accepted by Chinese historians and scholars. Chinese official institutes have repeatedly refuted this story in recent years. Chinese Academy of History posted on November 25 on its Weibo account that the claim is nothing more than a "malicious rumor."
Nonetheless, the term "egg fried rice" has become a code word used by some Chinese netizens to celebrate Mao Anying's death, which they believe saved China from adopting a hereditary leadership system similar to North Korea's.
Mao Anying was Mao Zedong's oldest son and considered an obvious successor to his father. November 25 is also known as "Egg Fried Rice Day" or "Chinese Thanksgiving Day" by those who consider the day to signify unexpected good fortune because the power didn't fall into the hands of Mao's son.
After Wang Gang's egg fried rice video was released, his social media platforms, including Weibo, Bilibili and YouTube, exploded with thousands of critical comments.
One netizen said on Weibo, China's censored social media platform, "Deliberately posting egg fried rice today!" According to a screenshot of the web, Wang Gang responded, "I'm simply sharing food and nothing else."
"The Academy of History just posted a thread to refute the rumors, and now you jump out to challenge the authorities! Don't cry if you get a punch then!" said another comment.
Many also accused Wang of having repeatedly publishing tutorial videos around Mao's death day in recent years. VOA Mandarin researched Wang's publishing history and found he had published such videos many times, not only in November.
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Chef makes two pledges
Under constant attack from netizens, Wang Gang released an apology video. In the video, he stated that the release of the latest egg fried rice tutorial was done by his team and that he was not personally involved. He promised to be more careful in the future.
"Here, I'd like to make two pledges to you all," said Wang Gang, wearing a white shirt and looking haggardly into the camera. "In the days to come, first, I will personally post all the videos. Second, as a chef, I will never make or film egg fried rice again."
Wang Gang then expressed his respect for Chinese soldiers and revealed that he has several veterans on his team and that his grandfather had served in the Korean War. As of press time, Wang Gang had deleted both the apology video and the egg fried rice video. He has turned on protection on his Weibo account and is no longer allowing new followers.
There were also some voices of support for Wang Gang in the Chinese social media. Blogger "Artravelersr" wrote on Weibo, "Wang Gang is a food blogger, he has no need or motive to do so, not to mention that he sends out fried rice tutorials several times a year. And this year he didn't even post it on Nov 25, and this is the reason he's being attacked? I'm quite speechless!"
"Chef Wang Gang, our whole family loves your program. My kids even introduced your video to their classmates. As an overseas Chinese, I will always support you, and the dishes you make can comfort my nostalgia. Keep up the good work! You didn't do anything wrong and don't need to apologize," a message read.