The words 發 ('fa') and 福 ('fu') in traditional Chinese characters appear on the heel area of the left and right shoe in the special-edition pair, respectively.
When seen separately, the words are associated with festivity, meaning 'be rich/prosperous' and 'have fortune/luck'. But when viewed together, they form a phrase meaning 'get fat'—a reversed blessing which is ironic, to say the least, for a sports brand.
NikeStore's official Weibo microblog has seen an influx of more than 2,550 comments since the introduction of the new shoes. Responses range from the mild ("Excuse me?! Get fat?!") to the more acerbic ("What kind of misunderstanding do you have about Chinese culture? Surely you have one Chinese person in your company! Otherwise, you can simply look for one on the streets!").
Nike seems to have made a more serious mistake than Burberry did last Chinese New Year when the British luxury clothier missed a crucial nuance of Chinese culture in a CNY-themed scarf.
Nike has apparently not issued a response on its social media channels, and still has a promotion for the shoes pinned at the top of its weibo account.
Campaign Asia-Pacific has reached out to Nike China for an official response.
Update, 4:30 pm: Nike China provided the following response:
The two characters add two more Chinese character options to Air Force 1 that were already on the platform from the existing 27 signatures (Chinese Zodiac Signs, Figures and the Elements.)
Nike iD offers the consumer to do only the same character on the two heels. So, it will be a pair of FU shoes or FA shoes. It is not very likely that the two words will be viewed together as your article suggested unless you design two shoes (FU shoes and FA shoes) and you mix and match them.
We also make sure the character Fu is upside down to well interpret Chinese tradition.