China has banned a Nike (NKE) television commercial showing U.S. basketball star LeBron James (search) in a battle with an animated cartoon kung fu master, saying the ad insults Chinese national dignity.
The commercial, titled "Chamber of Fear," was broadcast on local Chinese stations and on state television's national sports channel before being pulled last month. It shows James in a video game-style setting defeating the kung fu master, two women in traditional Chinese attire and a pair of dragons, considered a sacred symbol in traditional Chinese culture.
The advertisement "violates regulations that mandate that all advertisements in China should uphold national dignity and interest and respect the motherland's culture," the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television said on a statement posted Monday on its Web site.
"It also goes against rules that require ads not to contain content that blasphemes national practices and cultures."
The statement added: "The ad has received an indignant response from Chinese viewers."
It did not say why the advertisement was considered offensive. But communist officials are sensitive about the use of Chinese cultural symbols by Westerners, and might have been especially angered that the Nike advertisement showed the foreigner winning the fight.
Maurice Zhou, a spokesman in Shanghai for Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike Inc. said the company had no response except to say that it "respected the government's decision."
"We respect and follow the Chinese government's laws and regulations," Zhou said. He said he could not elaborate.
The Chinese television regulator tightened controls over programming in May by prohibiting the use of English words and imported programs that promote "Western ideology and politics."
Earlier this year, the government banned a Norwegian-made computer game involving a spy chasing military secrets on similar grounds that it hurt China's image, national dignity and interests.
The game included references to illegal computer technology, China, Russia, Libya and illicit weapons development.
The Nike advertisement is part of fast-growing foreign efforts to cash in on the huge popularity of basketball in China and the celebrity of James and other NBA players.
James is a forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers (search) and one of the NBA's best all-around players. He ranks third in the league in scoring and last week was named the Eastern Conference player of the month.
In an unrelated case, a Chinese cartoonist is suing Nike, claiming that a stick figure in one of its worldwide advertising campaigns was copied from his work.
Zhu Zhiqiang filed suit in July, asking for 2 million yuan ($240,000) in compensation and a public apology, according to state media. Nike rejected Zhu's claims, saying its figure was completely different from his.