John Cena's China apology: What you need to know

Cena referred to Taiwan as a "country" and all hell broke loose.

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Daniel Van Boom
4 min read

Cena's apology has caused a lot of online controversy.

Universal Pictures

After making a career of being booed by wrestling crowds, John Cena is facing a more intense type of criticism.  On Tuesday night Cena, actor and occassional wrestlerdelivered an apology in Mandarin to China and his Chinese fans. In a 68-second clip posted to Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, Cena struck a contrite tone as he repeatedly said sorry to his 600,000 followers.

"I made a mistake," he says in Mandarin, "I'm so, so sorry for my mistake. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm very sorry. You have to understand I love and respect China and Chinese people. I'm sorry."

What crime was he beseeching forgiveness for? Earlier in the month during a promotional tour for F9, the ninth Fast and the Furious flick, Cena told a Taiwanese TV station that "Taiwan is the first country that can watch F9."


China doesn't recognize Taiwan as a country, a point that's become an increasingly intense issue among its government and citizens in recent years.


A civil war in China ended in 1949 when the Nationalists fled to Taiwan and the Communists consolidated control of the mainland. No peace treaty has ever been signed. 

Google Earth

What's the issue between China and Taiwan? 

This story goes back to the 1920s. Between 1927 and 1949 a violent civil war raged in China, albeit with a World War 2-sized intermission in between. It was ultimately won by the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, which is still in power to this day: Xi Jinping doubles as China's president and the general secretary of the CCP.

On the other side of the conflict were the Nationals, led by Chiang Kai-shek. They lost the battle but technically never lost the war. Facing defeat, Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leadership and over a million refugees fled to Taiwan, control of which was taken from Japan in World War 2 and granted to The Nationalists by the Allied powers. No armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed. 

Taiwan's official name is The Republic of China (as compared to The People's Republic of China) and Chiang Kai-shek believed until his death that he would reclaim the mainland. After his death, in 1976, democracy flourished in Taiwan, though attitudes toward the mainland remain a polarizing political topic. 


Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-shek toasting  in 1945 during a round of peace talks to end the civil war. The peace talks failed.


China, for its part, has never recognized Taiwan as a country. It has historically promoted a "one country, two systems" agreement, which would see Taiwan formally become part of China without a major loss of autonomy. That was the same line used to induce Hong Kong back into the mainland before the CCP made moves to undermine that country's democracy (which is a whole other thing).

It's an issue China takes very seriously. It has blocked Taiwan from the World Health Organization's World Health Assembly and has warned international airliners and hotel chains not to refer to Taiwan as a country. Some military heads have warned that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is a very real possibility.

So in short, China sees Taiwan as a renegade province -- and it really doesn't like any insinuation otherwise. 

Fast and Furious is big business

It's not just China's leadership that is sensitive to Taiwan's dependence or independence. Thanks to decades of patriotic education, censorship and sometimes jingoistic propaganda, experts tend to agree that parts of China's population have become increasingly nationalistic. (Without a free press or trustable pollsters, it's difficult to quantify.) Many Chinese citizens think it an insult when Taiwan is referred to as a country and not a part of China.

And here's the key, central issue to Cena's apology: Hollywood in general does big business in China, particularly so for the Fast and Furious franchise. Of the $1.2 billion The Fate of the Furious grossed worldwide, over $400 million came from the Chinese box office. Hobbs and Shaw made more money in China, $201 million, than in the US. 

The importance of China to the franchise is evident in the fact that F9 has already hit cinemas in the country, where it's made $136 million. So, with that as context, it would be no surprise if Universal Pictures gave Cena a tap on the shoulder to apologize to Chinese fans.

"I have many, many interviews," Cena said in his apology. "In one of them, I made a mistake. Everyone asked me if I can use Chinese. People at F9 gave me lots of interview information. I made a mistake. I have to say right now, It's so so so so so so important, I love and respect China and Chinese people, I'm so so sorry for my mistake."

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm very sorry. You have to understand I love and respect China and Chinese people. I'm sorry."

Wait, John Cena speaks Mandarin?

Yes, he's a beast. Cena said on the Steve Austin Show podcast in 2014 that he began learning Mandarin to help WWE expand into China. He surprised and impressed many back in 2016 when he spoke Mandarin at a press conference in Shanghai.

What's the reaction been? 

Cena has over 600,000 followers on Weibo, the Twitter-like platform he posted the clip to. The post has currently got over 11,000 comments, eliciting a mix of responses. Some are crediting him for apologizing, while others are pointing out that Cena at no point explicitly states that Taiwan isn't a country.

"Please say in Chinese that Taiwan is part of China. Otherwise, we won't accept it," reads one comment with over 3,200 likes. Another user writes: "What you have said in the video is nonsense. You can't take benefits from China, but in the meantime, do things to harm China's interests."

In the US, the apology has been criticized heavily, particularly (but not exclusively) on the right. 

Perhaps the best response came from CM Punk, a former wrestler famed for his matches with Cena. "New bio!" he tweeted Tuesday night. His new bio: