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Muji says sorry after calling parts of Shanghai the ‘French Concession’

Muji says sorry after calling parts of Shanghai the ‘French Concession’


Sep 12, 2019
Photo: Handout
Qin Chen
Japanese retailer Muji has apologized in China after using the term “French Concession” to refer to a historic neighborhood in Shanghai in a marketing campaign.

The term, which is still commonly used in the megacity, angered some Chinese internet users who found it insulting because it invoked an era in which China had to grant a number of concessions to countries such as France, Britain, the US and Japan.

The former French Concession was an area run by French diplomats from 1849 to the 1940s, where extraterritoriality prevailed.

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An outline of the French Concession in 1937. Photo: Google Maps and Inkstone/Tom Leung
Despite decades of redevelopment, the tree-lined area retains a distinctive European character and is still considered one of Shanghai’s top residential and retail districts. Muji has a flagship store located there.

The retail chain came under fire this week for invoking the term “French Concession” in an online social media post inviting its followers to go on a walking tour of the neighborhood starting from its outlet.

On Chinese social media, many were upset by the Japanese retailer’s use of the term.

“Still calling it the French Concession? Please wake up, Japan,” a top-voted commentator said on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid, said: “Here in China, we no longer have things like the French Concession, which betrayed our national interests.”

Muji has 256 stores in mainland China, the biggest overseas market for the company. Photo: Shutterstock
But not all online comments were critical.

“When I went to Shanghai to visit, my friends would say lets go have fun in the French Concession. Why are you guys so sensitive all of a sudden? ” said another popular Weibo post.

In response, Muji apologized in an official reply to Shanghai-based media Pear Video, which posted a report about the controversy on Wednesday.

“We had no intention of hurting Chinese people’s feelings. We fully respect China’s culture and history,” it said, adding it had canceled the walking tour promotion and deleted the original post.

China is Muji’s biggest market outside of Japan, with more than 200 stores.

China and Japan have a long history of bad blood.

The Bund, a famed waterfront area, was the trade and financial hub in the former International Settlement. Today, visitors go for a view of its neo-classical architecture. Photo: Bloomberg/Qilai Shen
Relations between the two countries have waxed and waned over the years. Japanese pop culture and food are very popular in China, though political tension flares at times.

In 1843, Shanghai was one of five port cities opened to foreign powers as part of treaty agreements after China lost the First Opium War to Great Britain.

Britain was the first to establish a settlement area in Shanghai in 1845. After that, France, the US and Japan all established settlements in the city.

The former settlements are among Shanghai’s top tourist attractions today.

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Qin Chen
Qin is a multimedia producer at Inkstone. Most recently, she was a senior video producer for The New Yorker’s video team. Prior to that she was at CNBC, making short documentaries and writing about how technology shapes lives.
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