A Chinese celebrity chef is facing backlash over an egg fried rice tutorial he posted on Monday.
Communist party supporters slammed Wang Gang, saying he was mocking the death of Mao Zedong's son.
Nationalists believe egg fried rice is a reference to an unconfirmed story of how Mao Anying died.
In late November every year, egg fried rice becomes a touchy subject in China.
Posting an online video on how to cook the dish, for example, has landed Chinese celebrity chef Wang Gang in the soup with the country's nationalist crowd this week.
Wang has 2 million YouTube subscribers and 3.3 million followers on Weibo. On Monday, he shared a seemingly innocuous cooking video in which he taught viewers how to make fried rice.
However, the video generated such fierce backlash online that Wang issued an apology for it that same day. The original video has since been removed from his channels.
"I will never make fried rice again," Wang said in his apology.
"The video has caused a lot of trouble and caused a terrible situation for everyone," Wang added.
Why fried rice is a touchy topic in late November
The offense stems from an unsubstantiated rumor surrounding the death of Mao Zedong's son, Mao Anying, in the Korean War.
The younger Mao died on November 25 in 1950 in northeastern Korea while serving on a general's staff.
A common retelling of Mao's death is that he woke up late that day and missed breakfast. Per the story, he stole eggs from the camp's supplies and cooked himself egg fried rice in broad daylight — a violation of army rules at the time.
The fire from his breakfast supposedly gave away his position to US forces, who killed Mao in a napalm attack.
While never confirmed, the story has become a lightning rod for criticism of the Communist Party in China, and subsequently an intensely sensitive subject among party supporters.
Some celebrate November 25 as a saving grace from a potential Mao dynasty in China, which could have birthed a nation ruled by one family like in North Korea. Critics of the Mao regime post photos of egg fried rice or make a point to eat the dish on this day.
The central government and its most ardent supporters thus view the mentioning of egg fried rice during this period as a symbol of protest, and mete out criticism or punishment to those who do so.
For example, the Weibo account of the Jiangsu branch of China Unicom, a telco giant, was shut down in 2021 after it posted a recipe for egg fried rice on October 24, Mao's birthday.
The same year, a man in Nanchang was detained by police for 10 days for posting online that egg fried rice was the "greatest success" of the Korean War.
A third offense for Wang in the last five years
As for Wang, the influencer chef is on his third strike when it comes to ill-timed egg fried rice videos.
His channel released an egg fried rice recipe on October 22, 2018, two days before Mao's birthday, and on October 24, 2020, according to China Digital Times, a US-based 501(c)(3) organization that documents internet censorship in China.
Wang was criticized both times, and apologized for the apparent gaffe — even though state media outlet People's Daily shared his fried rice recipe in 2018 before the backlash began, per China Digital Times.
Now, nationalist social media users in China say Wang is clearly displaying a pattern of trying to stir trouble.
"Wang Gang is not an ordinary cook. He is very familiar with internet memes," one blogger wrote.
Another military blogger accused Wang of "secretly enjoying himself" despite his apology.
"There is so much time in a year to make fried rice, but he has to rush to do it on Anying's birthday or death anniversary," wrote yet another blogger.
Others have risen to Wang's defense, saying his videos are receiving undue scrutiny. Notably, his egg fried rice recipe wasn't posted on Mao's death anniversary of November 25, but two days later, on November 27.
"I just looked at his channel. Wang Gang makes egg fried rice over several months a year. Why do you choose to stare at them for just these few days?" one person wrote.
"So on which exact days is eating egg fried rice not allowed?" another questioned. "Do ordinary folk eating egg fried rice have to skip a day?"
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