American model Bella Hadid is currently in Shanghai, China, where she snapped a selfie while commuting in a car on March 20 and shared it with her 17.2 million followers on Instagram.
The photo seems innocuous except for the red-and-yellow banner in the background, which reads: “Closely united around the party that has Xi as the core. Making relentless efforts to realize the Chinese dream of the great national rejuvenation.” (紧密团结在习近平为核心的党中央周围 为实现中华民族伟大复兴的中国梦而不懈奋斗)
The selfie soon set the Chinese internet alight with speculation about whether the banner’s inclusion in the picture was a calculated move, given that last year, Gigi Hadid, Bella’s supermodel sister, didn’t make it to the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show in Shanghai after an online video showed her squinting eyes in an apparent effort to mock Chinese people.
“Her intention is quite obvious. I don’t believe you can randomly take a picture and have that whole banner in the background,” one internet user wrote. While many people praised the model for her political awareness, some questioned if the post is just a PR stunt, with a few believing that the model didn’t understand the banner at all.
As the debate continued on the internet, Bella took down the original photo and replaced it with a new one that crops out most of the controversial banner.
It’s still unclear why the model modified the initial post. Judging from her Instagram, Bella is having a good time in Shanghai, and her latest post shows her seeking blessings at the city’s Jing’an Temple, which made some internet users think she was probably “trying too hard” to appeal to the nation that has banned her sister from entering.