Last week, an “ISIS style” video featuring 16-year-old Taiwanese pop star Chou Tzu-yu apologising to the people of China for “hurting their feelings” by holding a mini Taiwanese flag gripped public attention on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. However, for some of those watching the video in the mainland, their minds were not on politics or cross-strait tensions, but rather, her sweater.

It was a simple black round-neck pullover. And business-minded entrepreneurs on Taobao thought it would probably sell well. So the item quickly appeared on the Chinese e-commerce platform, with a screenshot of Chou’s video to promote it.

chou tzuyu sweater
Photo: StandNews.

The “2016 spring season Chou Tzu-yu apology sweater” sold for RMB169, or HK$200, according to a picture posted by StandNews. But as of Monday the item could no longer be found on Taobao, said the Hong Kong digital news site.

Taiwan’s ETToday also reported that the sweater was taken off shelves by administrators at Taobao, which is owned by the Alibaba Group.

Chou is not the only celebrity whose clothes closet is closely copied in China. A search of “Princess Kate same style” on Taobao results in thousands of items illustrated with pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge. China’s first lady Peng Liyuan was also a fashion icon until authorities banned Taobao’s shops from using her as a sales gimmick.

kate middleton dresses
Thousands of shops on Taobao are selling “Princess Kate dresses.” Photo: Taobao screenshot.

StandNews said a T-shirt worn by a woman in the infamous Uniqlo sex tape last year was also a hit on Taobao.

Chou is a member of the South Korean girl band Twice. Earlier this month, she came under fire in mainland China for holding a mini Taiwanese flag on South Korean TV and introducing herself as from Taiwan. Netizens and the media, who follow the official line in considering the island a breakaway province, blasted the teenage star for being a “Taiwan separatist.”

YouTube video

Amid mounting criticism, her agency JYP released a video of Chou reading from a scripted apology, in which she said “there is only one China” and she was “proud to be Chinese.” The incident created a huge backlash in Taiwan and became one of the hottest topics during the island’s presidential election over the weekend.

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.