Using photos of Mao Zedong for promotions can be costly in China. Photo: AFP/Juan Barreto

A top-tier Chinese basketball team was hit with a one million yuan (US$140,000) fine for a promotional image that swapped out Mao Zedong for the club’s mascot.

Zhejiang Guangsha Lions apologized for the picture which was posted on social media and showed a lion in a Mao suit and red-starred hat, along with the slogan: “If you are backward, you will take a beating.”

The phrase is associated with the Opium War, the 19th-century conflict between Britain and China, and the poster was heavily reminiscent of Communist Party propaganda from Mao’s era.

Five players at the bottom of the image are wearing red scarves, and the club wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo platform where it published the picture: “Long live the red spirit.”

Fining the team, the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) said that the “design of the poster showed seriously inappropriate information, causing an extremely negative social impact.”

Zhejiang blamed “serious negligence from design and review staff” and said that it had sacked staff responsible.

It stoked controversy on Weibo, with some calling it the biggest fine in the CBA’s history, but others demanding even sterner punishments for those behind it.


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