In stark contrast to the Qiaobi Ad (Chinese detergent ad), have a look at these ads. Not sure about the origin or authenticity (as for the McDonalds brand).
In stark contrast to the Qiaobi Ad (Chinese detergent ad), have a look at these ads. Not sure about the origin or authenticity (as for the McDonalds brand).
I am as black as black could ever get, I am from the factory of black people; sub-saharan Africa. But I was not offended by the Chinese laundry commercial which recently caused such an uproar among netizens, at least when I decided to take off my liberal western saint’s spectacles. For those who have not seen it, the commercial in question portrays a nice looking black man trying to seduce a Chinese woman. After kissing him, the Chinese woman pops some detergent into his mouth and quickly pushes him down into the washing machine, and then the black man is transformed into a ‘cleaner’ pale Chinese man. Ignoring the plot plagiarism for a minute, I think it is important to discuss what happens when symbols are interpreted outside the context they are created. Those who might have tried to ask questions of their Mainland Chinese friends about the commercial might have realized one common theme, namely that the commercial was worthy of one thing: a laugh and that is it, nothing more, but why?
Overnight, the Western media and western-influenced netizens had jumped on their high horses condemning the Chinese for being racist. The west for a moment felt good that they now had an equal competitor for racism – well, I have some bad news. No-one in this world can yet to compete for the trophy of racism with the West.
The outcry among netizens was indeed a ‘clash of ignorances’. The ignorance of the Chinese in using racial stereotypes whose connotations outside China they did not understand, and the ignorance of the West in quickly judging Chinese affairs through a western lens. Race carries totally different connotations in China than elsewhere. In the West, with its history of colonization and slavery, I understand why people get so sensitive about racial issues. Take for example how hair is politicized especially in Great Britain, and a comment or a simple question which seems to enquire about someone’s hair, especially short kinky hair, might cause an uproar.
But if this same enquiry happened in China, one needs to step back and get the context right. In China this is just a question of curiosity, and carries none of that racialized ideas that would cause an outcry in the US or UK. I tend to spend more time with kids in Hong Kong, and it’s not uncommon for kids to call each other names like, ‘fat pig’, or to refer to their more tanned friends as black. And this is all that it means, it simply means fat pig or black kid, nothing more. It does not reflect any superiority complexes or some repressed unconscious secret Ku Klux Klan within, using Freud’s terms, if you may.
Are there racial classifications and hierarchy in China? Yes, there are, but they are totally different from the western notions of race. Many Chinese can’t even differentiate between a dark Sri Lankan and a dark Zimbabwean like me, not to mention how much time I take unsuccessfully explaining to a Chinese friend the difference between a South Indian and Will Smith. “Come on, look at the hair”, I would say, and she would take a closer look but she just would just shake her head, afraid to disappoint me, seeing how much conviction I had about racial issues.
I took another 15 minutes at a local university trying to explain the differences between Latinos and Caucasians within an American context but they just could not see any differences between any of them. I would argue that the racial hierarchy that might exist in the Chinese context is mainly influenced by the earlier upper class/peasant life styles in early China, with lighter skin being more admirable not because they saw whites, but because they saw the Chinese upper class; the rich, who spent more time indoors and therefore had lighter skin than the peasants who spent all day tilling the fields.
Western whiteness was equally as ghostified and undesired as every other non-Chinese look. Yes, there has been some aspiration to whiteness recently but this is not as we might imagine. Whiteness is a symbol of wealth, not because white people are considered to have money, no!, but because the richer Chinese have been historically lighter in skin. If you do not trust me yet, here is another example. If a black person goes to China, most Chinese might have racial prejudice if they assume they hail from Africa, as Africa symbolizes poverty; no money. This is not because they are racist, but something else. If that black person reveals maybe that they are from the beautiful country, as they call America, all of a sudden the experiences of that black person would be different. They expect that they have money and that they should treat them with more respect.
If a white person, whom they would have assumed is from the beautiful country, later reveals that they are from Feizhou (Africa). First the shock that there are white people in Feizhou, then the respect bar drops like a hot brick. Chinese people are classist: money determines how one is treated. Period! Yes, the global market plus advertising has been playing a bigger role in shaping skin desirability among the Chinese but these desires carry relatively different connotations from those that the west imagines.
Many times, my black friends claim that the Chinese are racist because they will not sit next to them in the train or because they pinch their noses when they sit next to them or are just awkwardly ridiculous. Well, these things happen, but not only to black people but to everyone who is a foreigner in China, no matter your color, even if you are a green person, you can expect to face the same treatment as every other foreigner in China. And just to add, foreigners eat different foods and yes, their sweat smells differently and pinching one’s nose, as much as it shows ignorance, does not reflect any racism. As a side note, I believe the domestic migrants in China face even worse discrimination and harsher consequences from prejudice, and yes, it has to do with how much money one is assumed to have.
In the end, contextualization is very important. Seeing Chinese issues through a western lens does nothing but show how much ignorance is rampant in the west. There is as much ignorance in China as there is in the west, and the explosion around the laundry commercial was just a result of the ‘clash of these two ignorances’: the Chinese being ignorant of what the racial notions they are playing with may mean outside their context and the Western-influenced being ignorant of how things are differently understood in China. The West should probably get off their high horses, there is not any competitor fit enough to fight for the racism trophy, the west is still the champion.
If there are any traces of racism in China, they are a result of the global market, but what we often misinterpret as racism is simply classism. Words or images without context mean nothing, images viewed in the wrong context cause more harm than good. The N word means different things in Nigeria than what it means in America, and these meanings are constructed historically and socially, and making the mistake that when a Nigerian uses the N word it means the same as the American use might cause other consequences of a clash of ignorances. The word kaffir means something totally different everywhere else than its meaning in South Africa. Words and images mean nothing in themselves, but the meanings we ascribe to them gives them meaning, and rarely do we have the same concepts when we show the same images or say the same words, and that is why contextualizing every image is very important in the 21st century.
Myth 27 The Chinese are Racist
Many Chinese are too brainwashed to overcome their racist attitudes towards blacks.
In China taxi drivers sometimes refuse to pick up black passengers. Those who have dark skin tend to sit alone on the bus because no one wants to get too close to them. For fear of contracting HIV, hotel and restaurant workers allegedly burn bedding and chopsticks used by foreigners. In the summer of 2007, in Beijing’s popular bar area Sanlitun police rounded up and brutalized all black people—including students, tourists, established businessmen, women, and the children of diplomats—as part of a drug raid aimed at young African dealers. Two years later, twenty-year-old Lou Jing made it far in the competition Go, Oriental Angel!—a program with a strong resemblance to American Idol—causing great uproar in the real world and online. Why? Lou has an African American father and a Chinese mother. “Ugh, it’s really disgusting when black and yellow people mix,” posted one angry commenter.
We come across racist statements from Chinese people quite frequently, particularly against blacks. But this truth must be examined for nuance as well.
Racism in China today might seem more apparent than in the West, but this does not necessarily mean that it is stronger or more widespread. The Chinese tend to have a different standard of political correctness and permissible speech. In China, race-related statements are less shocking than in the West, largely because the Chinese lack the West’s historic legacy of slavery and colonization. In addition, it is generally more acceptable to comment on people’s appearance in China than it is in the West. If you are fat, thin, freckled, tall, or have a visible disability—well, it is all up for discussion. A Chinese who comments on the skin color of a dark complexioned person is often simply stating that he or she is dark, nothing more. Frank Dikötter, who has made a study of Chinese attitudes toward race throughout history, argues that while China is definitely no stranger to racism, “[racism] was certainly more virulent and widespread in the West.”
In order to understand racism in China today, a look at Nigerians living in the metropolis of Guangzhou is particularly enlightening. This is the largest group of Africans in Asia, numbering several hundred thousand. The markets they have established in the city are booming, and relations between them and the Chinese are for the most part friendly. In fact, some of the African young men have Chinese girlfriends and wives, and the girls’ parents often do not disapprove. A very young generation of African Chinese is growing up now, speaking at least two languages. The hottest clubs hire African DJs. African clothing and music are beginning to spread among the Chinese in Guangzhou.
Singer Lou Jing (of Go, Oriental Angel!) is not from Guangzhou but claims that she had never experienced racism in her native Shanghai until she became a television celebrity. And many Chinese expressed strong disappointment in the negative feedback she received.
Chinese people have a long tradition of marrying foreigners—the highest form of acceptance of someone perceived as different. During the Tang Dynasty, immigrants from Central Asia and the Middle East were encouraged to take Chinese wives in order to help integration. The encouragement hardened into a decree during the Ming Dynasty. Several emperors took Persian wives themselves. Today marriage between Chinese and foreigners is not unusual. In Shanghai about three thousand interracial couples get married annually, making up about 3 percent of all weddings in the city.
Similarly, studies of Chinese behavior in Africa do not report widespread racism. On the contrary, there are strong indications that the Chinese are often more likely than Westerners to treat locals as equals. The biggest development project in China’s history was the construction of the TAZARA railway from Zambia to Tanzania in the 1970s. For five years tens of thousands of African and Chinese workers worked and lived together. Jamie Monson, president of the Tanzania Studies Association, interviewed Zambian and Tanzanian workers about their relationship to the Chinese. Many contrasted the Chinese people’s behavior with that of European colonizers. Educated Africans in particular tended to become friends with their Chinese counterparts. To their amazement, their Chinese colleagues would invite them home for dinner or various festivals. Sitting at the same table as a white person at the time would have been unthinkable. “It was true friendship; it was so good that you just can’t understand it,” recalls foreman John Gilbert.
Even today Africans tend to hold a more positive image of Chinese immigrants than one would think. This is the conclusion of a study performed by Barry Sautman in 2009. He found that Africans believe Chinese immigrants adapt well to local conditions, far better than Westerners do. About half of the respondents in the survey—which included nine African countries—replied that Chinese are the best at adapting, while only 22 percent found that Westerners adapt best. Only 2 percent thought the Chinese were racist.
Finally, it is important to point out that Chinese people, generally speaking, have little knowledge of and experience with foreigners. Many have never met one. China’s contact with the outside world is relatively new. The number of foreigners in China is increasing, and Chinese people travel overseas more. More contact will probably lead to more nuanced attitudes toward foreigners, for better or for worse.
- About.com, 1 June 2000, http://veritas-lux.blogspot.no/2013/05/research-shown-that-indiansare.html.
- For a firsthand account of being black in China, see Marketus Presswood, “A Minority in the Middle Kingdom: My Experience Being Black in China,” Tea Leaf Nation, July 17, 2013, http://www.tealeafnation.com/2013/07/chinese-raciality-and-black-reality-inchina/#sthash.hHVRg6iG.dpuf.
- Frank Dikötter, The Discourse of Race in Modern China (London: Hurst and Company 1992), 195.
- “The Promised Land: Guangzhou’s Canaan Market and the Rise of an African Merchant Class,” New Yorker, 9 February 2009, http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2009-02-09#folio=050.
- Heidi Østbø Haugen, “Afrikanere redder Kinas handel” [Africans Come to the Rescue of Chinese Trade], Ny Tid, 24 July 2009.
- Heidi Østbø Haugen, “Globaliseringens fotsoldater” [The Footsloggers of Globalization], Aftenposten Innsikt, October 2009.
- James Farrer, “From ‘Passports’ to ‘Joint Ventures’: Intermarriage between Chinese Nationals and Western Expatriates Residing in Shanghai,” Asian Studies Review, March 2008, http://sophia.academia.edu/JamesFarrer/Papers/590164/From_Passports_to_Joint_Ventures
- Jamie Monson, Africa’s Freedom Railway (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).
- Ibid., 61.
- Barry Sautmann, “African Perspectives on China-Africa Links,” Center on China’s Transnational Relations, 14 May 2009, https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.cctr.ust.hk/materials/conference/workshop/18/20090514-bsautman.ppt&sa=U&ei=M5W0U8bIGbSksQTAn4DoBQ&ved=0CAYQFjAB&client=internal-udscse&usg=AFQjCNEJTJH0555IxAMozVL8pT1eurhZOw.
By Alex Lo for SCMP
The Qiaobi detergent TV commercial on the mainland is indeed racist and offensive. Yet, even more interesting, is why it seems to provoke outrage only in the US media and not anywhere else in the world.
US and English-language news media have been quick to report on the commercial, yet few bother to tell their audiences that the long version with the black actor that went viral online was never broadcast; only the shorter version was shown without him.
Americans are quick to condemn.
The popular Vox.com waxed indignant: “This ad is blatantly racist… it’s also a reminder that attitudes over race and skin colour in China can be very bad.”
CNN editorialised along a similar vein.
By now, you have probably seen the viral version. A muscular black man whistles and winks at an attractive young Chinese woman. She calls him over, puts a detergent packet in his mouth, and pushes him headfirst into a washing machine. She then sits on the lid while the man shrieks and the washing machine spins. Moments later a young, Asian-looking man emerges in clean clothes, and the woman grins.
I don’t know about you but I find the Idris Elba-lookalike black actor far sexier and attractive than the effeminate lady boy that came out of the washer.
Still, what’s intriguing is the US news media blasting China for being racist towards blacks, and the commercial is being offered as Exhibit A.
That’s a bit rich coming from a country that was founded on black slavery, whose devastating legacy still haunts the current generation. Thirty-seven per cent of prison inmates in the US are African-Americans, though they make up only 13 per cent of the total population. Blacks on average live five years less than whites. A typical white family has a net worth of US$134,200, while a black one scrapes by with slightly more than US$11,000. US police killed at least 102 unarmed black people last year; unarmed blacks are five times more likely to be killed by police than unarmed whites. Such awful statistics roll on and on.
What you have is a politically correct media that helps to hide the underlying racism running deep in American society and projects it on to other countries.
China has racial problems. But murderous racism against blacks is not one of them.