Ukraine is considering imposing a ban on Chinese tourists following a controversial performance by Chinese opera singer Wang Fang. The singer sang a Soviet-era patriotic song in the ruins of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre in Mariupol, a city that had fallen to Russian troops after a lengthy siege.
The Controversial Performance
In a video shared online by an advisor to the exiled mayor of Mariupol, Petro Andryushchenko, Wang Fang is seen standing on a balcony amidst the ruins of the theater, which had been destroyed during earlier fighting this year. She performed a Chinese-language rendition of the military anthem “Katyusha.”
Andryushchenko, upon sharing the video, commented, “I hope the spirits of the more than 600 Mariupol residents killed by the Russians liked it so much that they will haunt her with horrors for the rest of her life.”
China’s Stance on the Ukraine Conflict
While China has not openly supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it has shown support for Russia in various ways, including banning criticism of President Vladimir Putin on social media platforms. However, in April, China’s foreign ministry clarified its respect for the sovereign status of former Soviet republics, including Ukraine.
Wang Fang had traveled to Mariupol with a group of Chinese bloggers and influencers, as reported by the Kyiv Post newspaper, citing a Telegram post by Andryushchenko.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Legal Affairs spokesman, Oleg Nikolenko, condemned Wang’s performance, describing it as “complete moral degradation.” He also labeled the arrival of Chinese bloggers in Mariupol as “illegal.”
In response to these events, the Ukrainian foreign minister initiated a ban on Chinese tourists entering the country. Nikolenko emphasized that Ukraine respects China’s territorial integrity but expects explanations from the Chinese side regarding the purpose of Chinese citizens’ presence in Mariupol and their route of entry into the temporarily occupied Ukrainian city.
The Fallout on Chinese Social Media
It appears that the Chinese government has taken steps to remove Wang’s performance from Chinese social media platforms. Searches for “Wang Fang Ukraine” and related hashtags on the Sina Weibo platform yielded empty results on Monday, with error messages citing violations of relevant laws and policies.
Historical Context of “Katyusha”
The song “Katyusha” holds historical significance beyond its association with the Mariupol tragedy. It originates from the time when Soviet troops occupied the border city of Hunchun, situated at the mouth of the Tumen River, which divides northeast China from North Korea. This region was lost to the Soviet Union during that conflict, and “Katyusha” became a battlefield anthem for Soviet troops.
Mixed Reactions in China
The controversial performance has garnered mixed reactions within China. Some social media users criticized Wang Fang, accusing her of self-indulgence and causing diplomatic embarrassment to China. In contrast, her husband, Zhou Xiaoping, defended her, describing her as “a rose of the battlefield.” Notably, former Global Times editor and pro-Beijing commentator Hu Xijin expressed his disapproval of the performance.
Wang Fang’s rendition of “Katyusha” in a war-torn Ukrainian theater has ignited debate and raised questions about the intersection of art, politics, and diplomacy in the context of the ongoing Ukraine conflict.