Fast & Furious star and wrestler John Cena began learning Mandarin Chinese nearly a decade ago. But this month, by showing off his linguistic skill in Taiwan, he got into trouble in mainland China.
On Tuesday, Cena apologised for calling Taiwan “a country” in an interview he gave to a Taiwanese broadcaster early this month, saying that it was not appropriate.
“I made a mistake, I must say right now. It’s so so so so so so important, I love and respect Chinese people,” Cena said to his 600,000 fans on his Chinese Weibo account. “I’m very sorry for my mistakes. Sorry. Sorry. I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China and Chinese people.”
China sees Taiwan an integral part of its own territory, and rejects any reference to the self-governed island as an independent state.
In recent years, international rhetoric over Taiwan has been intensifying. A growing number of individuals as well as businesses have been caught up in defining Taiwan’s status. The 17-time WWE professional wrestling champion is the latest high-profile westerner to find himself at the centre of the political as well as public opinion storm.
The controversy began when Cena, early this month, told Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS in Mandarin that: “Taiwan is the first country that can watch F9,” referring to his latest film, Fast & Furious 9.
China is the world’s biggest movie market. Over the weekend, the film – which has yet to be shown in the US – took in at least $135.6m (£96m) in China alone, making it one of the biggest openings for a Hollywood film since the coronavirus pandemic.
In showing the significance of the Chinese market to the film’s producers as well as investors, the lead actor, Vin Diesel, told the state-owned Xinhua news agency that the reason why the film premiered in China a month before North America is because those behind the work see China as their family. “It is a kind of show of gratitude to the family,” he said.
In the same Xinhua interview, Cena revealed that part of the next instalment of Fast & Furious “will be filmed in China”.
On Weibo, news of Cena’s apology in Mandarin has become one of the most-discussed topics on Tuesday. The hashtag #John Cena apologises in Chinese after calling Taiwan a country has been viewed nearly 840,000 times.
More than 10,000 commenters left remarks under his apology video. While some some expressed their understanding, others were unimpressed. “… You are being evasive. You cannot smash Chinese pot while eat Chinese rice,” wrote Mu Rao Feng.
“Please say ‘Taiwan is a part of China’ in Mandarin,” said Tai Wa Dai Shi, “otherwise we won’t accept it.” The comment has generated more than 7,300 likes and over 1,000 follow-up comments.