Mao Anying, Mao Zedong’s son, was killed by American bombers on November 25, 1950 while fighting in the Korean War. A persistent, unfounded, rumor (officially tagged as “historically nihilist”) holds that the younger Mao gave away his position by making egg fried rice on the battlefield. In some corners of the Chinese internet, November 25 is celebrated as a “Chinese Thanksgiving” that saved the People’s Republic of China from turning into a hereditary dictatorship in the mode of North Korea. (American Thanksgiving, unlike other imported holidays such as Halloween or Christmas, is not widely celebrated in China. Evan Osnos once described it as “something of a startup in the holiday-industrial complex.”)
As such, sharing egg fried rice recipes in November (or even October) is a recipe for controversy. Due to egg fried rice’s popularity, unintentional “celebrations” of Chinese Thanksgiving are common. Yet this is somehow online celebrity chef Wang Gang’s third egg fried rice-related controversy.
In 2018, People’s Daily shared a video of Wang making egg-fried rice on October 24, Mao Anying’s birthday. The post raised eyebrows, with some social media users accusing the Party’s flagship paper of harboring “ulterior motives” for sharing the video. People’s Daily ultimately shuttered the comment section of the post. In 2020, Wang shared a video of himself making Yangzhou-style fried rice (which is similar to egg fried rice) on October 24. It again led to an outburst of nationalist vitriol. Wang swiftly issued an apology in which he seemed rather bewildered by the the situation.
This year, on November 27 (two days after the anniversary of Mao Anying’s death, the aforementioned “Chinese Thanksgiving”), Wang again shared a video teaching others how to make egg fried rice. Online, he was immediately accused of “slandering martyrs,” a potentially serious accusation that can ruin careers or lead to jail time. Wang quickly deleted the video and uploaded a solemn apology video to Weibo promising, “On my honor as a chef, I promise to never again make egg fried rice, nor make any videos about it”:
Although this is the third time that Wang has ended up with egg on his face, it seems unlikely that he meant to intentionally slander the Party or rile up Mao’s defenders. The seemingly egg-fried-rice-loving chef tends to post recipes for that same dish once every few months. In his apology video, Wang stated that his production team had posted the video without reviewing it with him.
Instead, Wang’s plight is likely an illustrative example of the Li Jiaqi Paradox, wherein pervasive censorship and secrecy have made it so that people do not know what they are not supposed to know. Walking on eggshells is hard enough when you know they exist—and all that much harder when you don’t.