Category Archives: Media

[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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[Music] Naija Ninjas: Sound Sultan’s ‘Show Me Road’

[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’  

[blogs] Black Panther, Black China, Red Carpet

BlackLivesChina.com reports on the amazing success that Black Panther has had in China!

Black Panther was celebrated by black communities in China with unprecedented fanfare. Across the board, black communities organised group and family outings, donned their finest cultural attire, shared banter in the cinema, and eagerly watched the movie multiple times. It’s no surprise that tickets often sold out!

Scroll below for pictures of the phenomenal premieres in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Xiamen…

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 7.50.13 PM

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Go to their website to see many more pics of the ‘Wakanda Fever’.

And also Wode Maya interviews African Americans to see how African they now feel!

Racisme – avec des caractéristiques chinoises: comment le visage noir a assombri le ton des célébrations du Festival du Printemps en Chine.

Une pièce en collaboration entre Hannah Getachew et Runako Celina Bernard-Stevenson, traduite en français par Grace Maloba

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 6.27.45 PM

Les événements du gala du Nouvel An / Festival du Nouvel An chinois de 2018 sont en train d’être débattus en ligne parmi les Africains en Chine et ailleurs dans le monde, les Chinois, et maintenant même la presse occidentale en parle. Quelque 800 millions de personnes étaient connecté pour être témoin du spectacle, entre autres choses, une actrice chinoise défile autour de la scène le visage noirci, avec des fesses et une poitrine prothétiques. Comme beaucoup le savent maintenant, le conte raconté dans le sketch en question ressemble à ceci:

Une jeune fille africaine est sous la pression apparente de sa mère (jouée par l’actrice chinoise Lou Naiming le visage noirci) pour se marier à l’âge de 18 ans. Elle ne veut pas se marier mais veut plutôt aller en Chine pour étudier parce qu’elle aime passionnément nous rappelle, la Chine est incroyable. Alors, elle demande à son ami chinois de faire semblant d’être son fiancé dans le but de faire croire à sa mère qu’elle suit ses désirs. La mère est ravie d’apprendre que sa fille a l’intention d’épouser un Chinois et dit à l’auditoire combien elle est reconnaissante de tout ce que la Chine a fait et fait pour l’Afrique. Pourtant, peu de temps après, le secret est révélé quand la vraie mariée de son fiancé fictif (une femme chinoise) apparaît sur scène dans une robe de mariée, prête à dire «je fais ».

Lorsque sa fille explique pourquoi elle a menti au sujet du mariage et insiste pour déménager en Chine, sa mère semble oublier son désir de voir sa fille se marier. Au lieu de cela, elle regarde passionnément dans le public et déclare « J’aime les Chinois. J’aime la Chine ».

Il semble y avoir une certaine confusion quant à savoir si le personnage de singe accompagnant a été joué ou non par un homme africain.

La pièce se termine comme elle a commencé – en jouant Shakira, la meilleure exportation de l’Afrique, tandis que les Africains dansent sur scène.

Divers Africains, Divers Opinions

La pièce fait plusieurs fois référence à ‘feizhou’, traitant à nouveau le continent africain comme une entité singulière. En fait, il y a 55 pays à travers le continent africain et sa masse terrestre est trois fois supérieure à celle de la Chine. Ce sketch dénature les pays sub-sahariens et la diaspora noire mondiale, mais ne fait aucune référence aux pays nord-africains. Autrement dit, l’Afrique est trop vaste, complexe et diverse pour tout récit singulier.

Ce principe s’applique également au contenu de cet article. Black Lives China ne prétend pas englober toute la diversité de l’expérience noire en réponse à ce sketch, et les lecteurs devraient se méfier de tout article qui prétend le faire.

Parmi la communauté noire, il y a des membres qui trouvent ce sketch inoffensif, divertissant ou largement hors de propos. Pour eux, les éléments du jeu sonnent vrai. Les zèbres, les lions, et les singes sont originaires d’Afrique sub-saharienne, diront-ils. Certains ont été amusés par la musique et la danse, tapant leurs pieds au rythme des tambours sur scène.

D’autres appellent le sketch une distraction. Toute représentation raciste insensible des Africains noirs ne peut exister qu’en raison de la dynamique de pouvoir économique entre l’Afrique et la Chine, disent-ils. À la suite de cette argumentation, on peut souligner le déséquilibre monétaire dans le niveau des investissements financiers que la Chine fait dans les pays africains, contrairement à l’inverse. Une fois que les pays africains auront organisé et négocié des investissements avec la Chine sur la base de priorités régionales et continentales claires, le racisme en Chine s’estompera progressivement. Ce sont juste un échantillon des nombreuses vues dans la communauté noire sur le sketch.

Raciste ou pas? Notre analyse

La question sur la bouche de la plupart des commentateurs semble être si oui ou non le sketch, et en particulier la représentation de la mère était raciste ou racialement insensible… [Lire la suite]

[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’