A Chinese online fashion retailer is being probed for cashing in on Premier Wen Jiabao's popularity to promote its latest T-shirts -- an act that might have violated the country's law on advertisement, Beijing commerce authorities said.
Vancl, popular for its pop culture apparel, stirred up controversy on Tuesday by advertising on its website a new series of T-shirts printed with Premier Wen's signature quotations like "Forget About Me" and "Self-Reflection."
Both quotes were picked from Wen's emotional press finale this March when he addressed a press conference after the conclusion of the annual parliamentary session.
The 70-year-old premier's term of office is slated to end in March next year. Since he took the post in 2003, Wen has become popular among the people and is sometimes fondly nicknamed "Grandpa Wen."
The series of T-shirts is named "Look Up At The Starry Sky," the title of a poem written by Wen and published in the People's Daily in 2007.
One of the Vancl T-shirts actually features "Look Up At The Starry Sky" and "Step On The Concrete Ground" in Chinese calligraphy, in reference to a couplet Wen gave to students of Peking University in 2010.
The couplet was a metaphor for telling young students to hold high ambitions but take a step-by-step approach to achieve their dreams.
Pictures of Wen waving to journalists and taking questions, though not printed on the T-shirts, were splashed on the advertisement web page at www.vancl.com.
But the page was taken down by the company only hours after its appearance as many Internet users accused it of cashing in on the premier's popularity to promote its products.
"Vancl's online advertisement is suspected of violating the Advertisement Law which stipulates an advertisement shall not involve using the names of State organs or their functionaries," a spokesman of Beijing municipal industry and commerce bureau told Xinhua.
The bureau would soon take actions in accordance with the law, he added.
While it is not unusual to see the faces of Chairman Mao and other late state leaders on souvenirs, it is rare to see images of incumbent leaders or officials being borrowed by pop culture.
Jiao Hongyu, a Vancl spokeswoman, told Xinhua the advertisement was designed out of respect for Wen, hoping the premier's messages might have a positive influence on today's young people, who are Vancl's back-bone customers.
"We did a Lei Feng (a late heroic Communist soldier) series before and it was very well received," Jiao said. "So when we planned this series, we did not foresee any negative impact it might bring."
T-shirts of the "Lei Feng" series are sold ranging from 29 yuan ($4.6) to 59 yuan a piece. The "Look Up At The Starry Sky" T-shirts, however, have been pulled off from Vancl's online purchasing platform.