Katy Perry sparked controversy in China after a recent concert in Taipei, Taiwan, where she donned both a Taiwanese flag and a sunflower dress, which many viewed as a pro-Taiwanese statement and expression of solidarity with the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement, E! reports.
Just over a year ago, a group of students occupied Taiwan’s parliament for 23 days, protesting the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with mainland China. They believed the pact would give mainland China too much economic and political power over the sovereign nation, with sunflowers used as a symbol of hope throughout the protest.
The relationship between Taiwan (technically known as the Republic of China) and mainland China (People’s Republic of China) is incredibly complex, as both governments claim to represent all of China — mainland and associated islands — and simultaneously refuse to recognize each other’s sovereignty. Since the ROC lost its United Nations seat as “China” to the PRC in 1971, many countries have recognized the latter as the sole legitimate government of China, including the United States (though it maintains unofficial ties with the ROC).
As such, the ROC flag Perry draped over her shoulders was viewed by many as a political statement itself, especially because the PRC has often fought to remove its presence from events like the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup. When combined with the sunflower dress, fans couldn’t help but interpret the outfit as a direct allusion to last year’s protests.
As Quartz points out, many Taiwanese fans praised Perry’s outfit, but it also received harsh criticism in China. Photos of Perry donning the dress and flag were reportedly deleted from Baidu and other Chinese social media sites Thursday morning.
Perry’s actual intent remains unclear — the singer hasn’t commented on the incident via social media— though the sunflower dress has been a part of her wardrobe throughout much of her Prismatic World Tour. However, it could have serious repercussions for her in mainland China: The country remains an enormous market for both album sales and concerts, but in 2008, as Reuters reported, it began banning performers who “threaten national sovereignty.”
While Perry has a concert in China’s autonomous Macau region this weekend, she toured the mainland earlier this month. Her concert in Shanghai even featured the sunflower dress.