On Monday, Taylor Swift announced plans to launch her own clothing and merchandise line for the Chinese market in partnership with JD.com, one of the country’s leading online retailers. The move is mainly to combat the prevalence of unauthorized Swift merchandise in the country, where she only holds six of eight patents for her own namesake.
But, as The Guardian points out, Swift may be running into a political minefield while doing so. Understandably, most of her more recent merch contains her initials, T.S., and 1989, the name of her latest album. But both of those things, especially side-by-side, mean very different things in China. 1989 was the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre and, of course, the initials T.S. could also be read as a stand-in for the location where hundreds were killed in pro-democracy protests. The Chinese government is highly sensitive to any mention of the event, and censors the date on all social media sites.
A promotional video posted to Weibo features Swift saying “Ni hao” to all of her Chinese fans, plus a preview of some of the merchandise that will be available in the market, which features both “1989” and “T.S.,” though curiously never on the same item.
It’s possible that Swift’s team may have sidestepped this controversy altogether — the 1989 album is sold in Chinese stores, after all, with T.S. and 1989 proudly placed next to each other on the album artwork. But a look at Swift’s official merch shop for the rest of the world shows bracelets and other apparel that contain only the initials and the date, and could come to represent something completely different separated from the context of the album cover.
Swift’s Chinese merch shop won’t launch until the beginning of August, so there’s no way to tell just yet if the potentially censorable items will be available in the country.