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[Media] 🇨🇳 What’s it like being black in China? | The Stream

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Niesha Davis @brwnandabroad
Writer & content creator
www.youtube.com/channel

Roberto Castillo @castillorocas
Assistant Professor, Cultural Studies Programme, Lingnan University
africansinchina.net

Hannah Ryder @hmryder
CEO of Development Reimagined
developmentreimagined.com

Chenchen Zhang @dustette
Political scientist

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[Podcast] Black Panther sparks debate over anti-black racism in China

Podcast from The China Africa Project.

The Marvel superhero blockbuster Black Panther generated a respectable $100 million at the Chinese box office in March, making it the film’s top overseas market. The movie had a very strong opening in China, earning more than $60 million during its first but then dropped off quickly.

The seemingly sharp fall in attendance prompted Western media outlets to write a series of articles that suggested Chinese moviegoers objected to Black Panther because of its all-black leading cast. “A torture for the eyes: Chinese moviegoers think Black Panther is just too black,” read Quartz reporter Echo Huang’s dismally-sourced story where she relied on online movie review sites, often filled with troll-like comments, as evidence of Chinese racism towards black people. Not surprisingly, Huang’s article went viral and sparked a lively discussion on social media about the supposedly pervasive racism in China towards black people.

“Cherry-picking negative posts on an anonymous reviews site isn’t a particularly fair way to assess Chinese attitudes toward black people (and one is likely to find plenty of racist comments on English language online chats too).” — Writer and commentator Jeff Yang

That Quartz story and others that linked Black Panther’s box office performance to Chinese racial attitudes toward black people was quickly challenged by other media outletssocial media influencers and scholars who all highlighted that Chinese reaction to the film was not as racially-tinged as had been suggested.

 

Cherry-picking negative posts on an anonymous reviews site isn’t a particularly fair way to assess Chinese attitudes toward black people (and one is likely to find plenty of racist comments on English language online chats too),” said San Franciso-based writer Jeff Yang in response to the Western media’s reporting on Black Panther’s supposedly lackluster response in China.

Roberto Castillo couldn’t agree more with Yang. Castillo, an assistant professor at Ling Nan University in Hong Kong, is one of the leading scholars on the African diaspora in China with a particular focus on African and black media perceptions in the PRC. He joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the Chinese response to Black Panther and why the Western media continues to misunderstand Chinese racial views towards black people.

 

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[Opinion] Of ‘blackfaces’ and SinoAfrican modernities

Screen shot from The Break Up Guru (China 2014)

You could compile a long list of blackfaces’ in East Asian media over the last decade see here, here and here. However, the latest iteration of this Euro-American racist archetype in Chinese media is by far the most controversial.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, a well-known Chinese actress performed in blackface’ during a skit on CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala. Lou Naiming (with exaggerated buttocks, a fruit platter, and a black man dressed as a monkey) played the role of a traditional and somewhat confused African mother in a skit about love, tradition, and China’s historical role in Africa.
The Gala is not just another Chinese TV show. It is a well-rehearsed and perfectly curated 4-hour-long representation of Chinese culture, tradition, everyday life, and nationalism.

Spring Festival Gala with Chinese actress in blackface (left).

CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s blackface’ adds to the increasing list of racist’ incidents in China (concerning black people) that have gone viral see here and here. Most big Western media conglomerates carried the story and, as of the time of writing, no formal apology has been issued.
Africa as China’s damsel in distress’
Beyond the blackface’, the skit’s story is rather simple but problematic. Carrie, an 18-year-old Kenyan stewardess trainee, asks her Chinese teacher to pass as her boyfriend to avoid a blind date organised by her mother. Carrie does not want to marry yet. She wants to work and then go to China to study.
In the skit’s resolution, Carrie confesses to her mother and explains her desire to go to China. It becomes clear that Carrie sees China as a way to escape tradition (and her mother’s traditional views on marriage). All of a sudden, Carrie’s mother praises China’s role (past and present) in Africa and agrees to Carrie’s plans, shouting I love the Chinese! I love China!’
The skit intended to highlight the positive aspects of China-Africa relations. It does this, however, by presenting a narrative in which China is seen as a solution to Africa’s backwardness’.
As I was watching the skit, I was reminded of a piece of analysis I wrote some years back about the representation of Africans on the highly popular dating TV show If You Are the One (feicheng wurao).
Similar to the Gala’s skit, the production of If You Are the One’ portrayed Xiao De (a participant from Guinea Bissau) as a free-spirited girl, trapped by tradition. Xiao De saw going to China as a way to escape her fate (an arranged marriage), study, and become independent.
In the dating show, Xiao De is strictly looking to marry a Chinese man. Moving to China and marrying a Chinese was for Xiao De, as it is for Carrie, a way to escape tradition and enter modernity a Chinese version of modernity perhaps.
The blackface’ skit reproduced a narrative line that is representative of China’s general approach to Africa. Both official and popular Chinese narratives about Africa consistently try to construct an image of the continent as China’s damsel in distress’.

Paolo Uccello’s depiction of Saint George and the dragon, c. 1470, a classic image of a damsel in distress.

The age-old trope of the damsel in distress’ in film, literature and video games depicts a young and beautiful woman who needs to be saved from a monster by a male hero. In the end, the woman usually marries her rescuer. On both the skit and the dating show, this gendered narrative portrays China as the (modern) male hero and Africa and the princess in jeopardy (or a dire predicament caused by tradition).

Xiao De in her last appearance on If You Are the One

This trope has multiple iterations in China-Africa relations and is linked to the Chinese white saviour complex, as seen in the box office hit Wolf Warrior 2.
In short, behind the Gala’s blackface’ lies a consistent top-down, ego-boosting effort to see and represent China as a way for Africa to enter modernity. An effort that casts China-Africa relations along the lines of the binary of Africa as the past and China as the future’.
Beyond the blackface’: Africa as the past’ and China as the future’
The Spring Festival Gala is a program full of skits. While the skits are normally comedic, they generally intend to inform and educate the audience about a particular topic (from military affairs and everyday life to, controversially, other cultures).
The blackface’ skit the first in the Gala’s history to portray China-Africa relations succeeds in informing its Chinese audience about China’s historical role in Africa. However, it fails to educate’ viewers as to the complexities and realities of contemporary sub-Saharan life.
The proof is in the pudding. The skit’s story is supposedly set in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, but all you can see in the background is a savannah. This stereotypical African landscape is about to be crossed by a Chinese-built railway hailed as part of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

Actual Nairobi

CCTV’s imagined Nairobi

Representing Africa as the past’ means associating ideas about Africa strictly with nature and tradition. Stereotypical views on Africa are not only part of the top-down’ approach as seen on CCTV’s skit they pervade everyday life in China. This is something that many African students who have lived in contemporary China understand.
Often, when African youngsters want to make a quick buck in China, they take on entertainment jobs that essentialise their Africanness. This happens to other foreigners in China as well. But in the case of Africans, they often end up donning traditional attire and then drumming or dancing, even if they have no idea about either.
For many ordinary Chinese people, there is no space for modern Africa. By reproducing age-old stereotypes about the continent and its people, the CCTV skit catered to this.
When asked about this, young and educated Chinese often claim that people who produce negative stereotypes about Africa (and blackness) are not aware they are doing it. Naivety and ignorance are the common justifications. Ordinary Chinese, they say, ignore African and global histories and only reproduce what is offered to them by Hollywood.
This is to some extent true. However, there is evidence from museum exhibitions (pairing Africans to fauna) to film festivals (solely focusing on films about indigenous Africa, for example, Namibia’s Himba people or the Maasai) that point in another direction. Even ‘educated’ people in positions of power in China seem to hold these views. Blaming Hollywood seems a poor defence.
In a future post, I will propose an alternative route through which negative cinematic representations have entered Chinese imagination. Stay tuned!
*An edited version of this post was published by The Conversation Africa as ‘What ‘blackface’ tells us about China’s patronising attitude towards Africa’  

[Research] ‘Clean, Safe and Orderly: Migrants, Race and City in Global Guangzhou’

FINALLY! Finally someone makes real sense about the complex interplay between urban transformations, local and global politics, and mobilities in Guangzhou. Contrast this to the simplistic ‘anti-African campaign’ narrative promoted by media and some scholars. This is definitely a must read if you want to understand what has happened with foreigners in GZ at the local (and multiple) level(s).

[Film] Can ‘Black Panther’ change Chinese attitudes toward ‘race’?

By Niesha Davis for SixthTone.com

The film “Black Panther,” which premieres in Chinese cinemas today, has been hailed for its stylized and celebratory representations of Africans. While it isn’t the first major motion picture starring a black superhero, it is arguably the most earnest film in the genre to date. American movies like 1993’s “The Meteor Man,” starring Robert Townsend, and 1994’s Damon Wayans-led “Blankman,” were based in the inner-cities of the U.S. and hammed up the superhero shtick for comedy value.

But in channeling a fictional black superhero created in 1966 at the height of the American civil rights movement, the protagonist of “Black Panther” is truly unique: a person of African descent with the power, intellect, and moral compass to inspire admiration across racial divides; a person who stands as a unifying force in a fictional African country with no obvious history of colonization and blessed with abundant natural resources.

I hope that the release of “Black Panther” in China will heighten awareness of race among domestic audiences. Let me be clear: As a black American woman, I regularly experience systemic racial discrimination at home in the United States. But I often find the discrimination I encounter here in China cruder and more overt.

I moved to China in 2015 in the hope of earning good money as an English teacher and exploring more of Asia during my off-time. And it is true that my experience in Shanghai has been quite lucrative for my career since then. Yet to paraphrase the African-American poet Langston Hughes, life for most black people in China isn’t a crystal stair.

Chinese beauty standards put whiteness at a premium; some women regularly bleach their skin, for example. But these aesthetics run deeper than skin color: The popularity of plastic surgery proceduresdesigned to widen and brighten the eyes reflects a widespread acceptance of Caucasian, Eurocentric beauty standards. Often, I feel as if my very existence as a dark-skinned black woman is in opposition to what some Chinese people find aesthetically beautiful, a tension that has made me feel disrespected in certain social interactions.

Beauty standards have negatively impacted my employment prospects and income. Many job postings specify that only white or “native European” teachers may apply, or demand that candidates submit copies of their passport pages at the very start of the recruitment process in order to screen out people with dark skin.

Often, I feel as if my very existence as a dark-skinned black woman is in opposition to what some Chinese people find aesthetically beautiful.

It is regrettable that most Chinese lack exposure to black people. Interactions that many locals have with those of the African diaspora are therefore rife with negative stereotypes — particularly notions of cleanliness. Last year, the Chinese detergent brand Qiaobi was accused of open racism after releasing a television commercial in which a Chinese woman shoved a black man into a washing machine. He then emerged as a fair-skinned Chinese man, to the visible delight of the woman.

Qiaobi came under warranted criticism for perpetuating the bogus idea that dark-skinned people are dirtier than their lighter-skinned counterparts. But my own experiences indicate that this notion exists much more prominently in China than in the U.S. I have witnessed passengers blatantly cover their noses as I enter a subway carriage; once, while on holiday in Hong Kong, a department store clerk who was demonstrating a brand of soap on my hand even joked that my skin was dark because the poor air quality on the Chinese mainland had made it dirty.

And things are hardly better when it comes to the average Chinese person’s perceptions about Africa. Admittedly, both Chinese and Western media outlets perpetuate a negative narrative that casts the continent’s people as backward, poverty- and disease-stricken, and in need of economic and structural help from other nations.

A particularly harrowing recent depiction of Africa in the Chinese movie world is last year’s popular action thriller “Wolf Warrior 2.” By now, I am used to seeing the cinematic trope of the white savior, in which the Caucasian protagonist rescues “vulnerable” people of color from a dangerous plight. “Wolf Warrior 2” remixes this for a Chinese audience. Set in a nameless African country, Wu Jing stars as a Chinese soldier on a special assignment to protect both his countrymen and locals amid a violent rebellion, eventually winning the fawning admiration of the country’s black population. Despite the film’s almost comically ham-fisted plot, it nonetheless stands as the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time and is the country’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards.

Fortunately, the Africa that Chinese audiences will see in “Black Panther” completely dispels the above stereotypes. Wakanda, the fictional country in which the film is set, exemplifies a futuristic, technologically advanced nation where black protagonists are masters of their own destinies, not victims in need of salvation.

Exposure to pop culture that encompasses diverse representations of black people can exert a powerful influence on how individuals conceive of them.

University lecturer and Shanghai resident Marcel Daniels, who has seen the film while abroad, is optimistic that the film will have a positive influence in his adopted country. “I find that a lot of stereotypes in China come from a limited exposure to diversity, so assumptions are made reflexively. Hopefully this film sparks interest in Chinese viewers to learn more about the history, people, and cultures of those from Africa.”

Kristen Stanley, the owner of Liaison Luxury Sport and Entertainment Agency in Shanghai, plans to host a “Black Panther”- themed screening on the night of the film’s China release. “The perception of black people around the world is changing and this movie will continue that trend,” she says, adding that three cinema viewings she organized have already sold out completely.

“Black Panther” is unapologetic in its celebration of blackness. Its costuming, hairstyles, and language, are replete with African cultural references and historical recognition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. African beauty standards stand front and center: While previous Hollywood productions have been criticized for casting fairer-skinned black people in leading roles, the likes of Lupita Nyong’o — who plays Nakia, Black Panther’s love interest — show a boundary-pushing commitment to darker-skinned stars. Female characters also shun Eurocentric ideals of straight hair by embracing bald heads, dreadlocks, kinky and curly styles, and Bantu knots.

Of course, it would be simplistic to say that one film will completely change attitudes toward black and African people in China. For all its laudably progressive traits, “Black Panther” primarily addresses comparatively subtle Western stereotypes of black people. When transposed onto the Chinese context — a society in which crude racial stereotypes pervade national television — some of the film’s celebration of African pluralism might be lost in translation.

But “Black Panther” can still be a start. Exposure to pop culture that encompasses diverse representations of black people can exert a powerful influence on how individuals conceive of them. “Black Panther” probably won’t completely eradicate the notion that Africa is a monocultural entity that needs fixing, but it might show Chinese audiences that our perceptions of superheroes can be complex and beauty standards are not easily divisible into black and white.

 

[Documentary] ‘Black in Tokyo’

Although not about ‘Africans in China’ this interesting doco shows another perspective on ‘being black’ in Asia. Many of the African pioneers living in China in the 1990s ended up in Japan, btw. Interestingly, many of these ppl claim to be treated better in Japan than in China. Anyways, worth watching!

Black in Tokyo was created with the intention of exposing people around the world to the black foreign experience of living in a homogenous country. Directed by Nigerian-American artist Amarachi Nwosu, the film follows five subjects, with origins ranging from West Africa to the U.S., narrating the different cultural challenges and opportunities of living in Tokyo, Japan.

 

 

Read more about this here