Tag Archives: Racism

[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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[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.

 

[Opinion] The notorious Qiaobi: behind the scenes of an “ad controversy” foretold?

By Giovanna Puppin for UoN Blogs / China Policy Institute Blog

A Chinese detergent company’s TV ad, which was reportedly screened on China’s TV stations and before movies in Wanda cinemas in May, has generated international attention. The commercial for Qiaobi 俏比 washing powder began to draw attention on 26th May when it was spotted by the online publication Shanghaiist, and then uploaded on Youtube, where it hit 2 million views in just one day. And this happened not for its positive qualities: BuzzFeed was the first to “honour” it with the title of “the most racist ad of 2016”.

The ad story was soon covered by international media sites – including BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera – and commented on by netizens all over the world, also through reaction videos. As a result, the debate also took off on Chinese social media: the notorious Qiaobi ad –redubbed as “the most racist ad ever” – not only was under the world’s scrutiny, but it was also being read as a mirror of racism in the country (in a political way). On 27 May, Mr. Wang – a representative of the company that owns the brand – said that the ad actually never intended to promote racial discrimination, and that foreign media were possibly being too sensitive about it. The following day, though, the company formally apologised with a Chinese-language statement published on the brand’s Weibo account, which caused another wave of indignation.

The 50-second ad opens on a young Chinese woman loading her top-load washing machine, while a cheerful accordion tune is played in the background; some laundry liquid detergent and colourful boxes are displayed behind her (the brand names have been deliberately blurred). A young black man passes by her flat; when he sees her, he stops at the entrance and starts winking and whistling at her from a distance. Because his face and t-shirt are covered with paint (moreover, he is also holding a brush and a can of paint) it is logical to assume that he has been decorating the interior of a flat (or, less probably, hers). She invites him to come nearer – a move that he visibly appreciates – suggesting an imminent seduction, but just as they are about to exchange a kiss, she places something that looks like a green mint candy in his mouth. Immediately, but less gracefully, she shoves him into the washing machine: then she sits on it and waits.

At this point, the music stops: the sound of the man screaming is clearly discernible from the background noise of the washing machine spinning. On the visual code, the advertised product is revealed: Qiaobi laundry gel balls (contained in the colorful boxes depicted before). Once the spinning cycle is over, the Chinese woman opens the washing machine and a young Chinese man emerges from the drum, in front of her astonished – yet pleased – eyes, and to an energetic, gripping tune. The Chinese man is wearing a flawless, clean white t-shirt, and he hands back the detergent ball she had placed into the black man’s mouth (which we now recognise as the advertised product). He winks at her, and, in doing so, a cartoon-style sparkle magically appears. The last scene of the ad depicts the packaging and the product, and a cartoon-style animated dolphin – the pictogram of Qiaobi’s logo. The pay-off: “Change starts from Qiaobi” (gaibian cong Qiaobi kaishi 改变从俏比开始) appears on the screen, and a slightly altered version is announced by the voice-over: “Change is just a Qiaobi laundry gel ball” (gaibian zhishi yike Qiaobi xiyi rongzhu 改变只是一颗俏比洗衣溶珠). The closing shot shows the national hotline number to call for further information.

When I first watched the commercial I immediately recognised it as very similar to – yet different from – two previous ad campaigns for the machine fabric dyes by Coloreria Italiana, namely: “Coloured is Better: What Women Want” (2006) and “Coloured is Better: la Vendetta” (2007). As Mr. Aldo Biasi – the president of the advertising agency – explained to me in a telephone interview, these ads were originally circulated on some minor Italian websites on Women’s Day. The creative idea of transforming a scrawny white husband into a buff black man made an explicit use of race-based sexual stereotypes and had a deliberate ironic intent. In Mr. Biasi’s opinion, this is not the case of the Chinese ad, which he described as “a blatant ripoff with an offensive twist”. The Qiaobi ad not only follows the same storyline but, for the first half, even uses the same background copyrighted music (including the diegetic screaming sound!): this makes it quite difficult to believe that neither the company nor the creative team had never seen the original ads before, as they claimed. The company’s official statement makes no reference to the ripoff, but some Weibo-users pointed their fingers at its reprehensible, careless attitude in blatantly copying another campaign, and even expressed skepticism towards the “professionalism” of the team who created and produced the ad. These are important details that need to be contextualised in the light of China’s official discourse on developing creative advertising, that is being promoted by the authorities to boost a national creative industry and improve the qualitative standards of advertising – also through a new system of professional accreditation.

The main substantive difference compared with the Italian ads is that the reversal of the racial transmogrification- from a black (African) man to a fair-skinned (Chinese) man. This is precisely the aggravating factor that fuelled the allegations of racism and fury online, mainly outside China. Some viewers recognised in the Qiaobi ad the distinctive features of commodity racism, a “creative strategy” that is nothing new in the West – as the infamous campaigns forPears’ Soap in 19th Century England demonstrate.

In China though, as explained by Prof. Liu Junhai, racial sensitivity among advertisers and the public is lower than in Western countries. This race-related ad controversy is unprecedented in the country, and the rather banal reason is that the Chinese advertising world is characterised by the almost exclusive portrayal of the Han 汉 people (even though the Qiaobi ad is not the first to depict a black person).

Interestingly, the black man doesn’t appear in the short version of the ad: the “innocuous” version depicting only the Chinese man and the product (unfortunately now unavailable) is actually the one that was screened on China’s satellite TV stations. The longer version gained attention when the independent photographer Benoit Florençon uploaded it on Youtube. In the light of the Chinese government’s recent campaign to clean up e-commerce and online ads (also as a response to the Wei Zexi incident), it might seem surprising that the ad was not stopped earlier.

Apparently, on 5th March this year, the brand’s Weibo account published the following soft-porn-sounding pre-campaign anticipation: “This is the story of a ‘love triangle’ between a black uncle, a little fresh meat, and a sexy goddess” (Zhe shi yi ge jiangshu hei shushu, xiao xianrou, xinggan nvshen de ‘sanjiao lian’ gushi 这是一个讲述黑叔叔、小鲜肉、性感女神的‘三角恋’故事). This teaser provides some useful clues for decoding how the protagonists have been typified (and stereotyped) in the ad. The three nicknames come from Internet slang and equally evoke some sexual connotations: hei shushu 黑叔叔 (literally: “black uncle”) is used in this context as “black daddy”; xiao xian rou 小鲜肉 indicates a young guy with fair skin and innocent looks; xinggan nüshen 性感女神 indicates a sexy woman who is beautiful and seductive.

The primary function of advertising, elementary as it sounds, is to persuade consumers to buy a certain product (or service). Nonetheless, this might be quite challenging for a relatively new, small start-up like the Shanghai-based Leishang Cosmetics Co., Ltd.: neither the company nor the Qiaobi brand are especially well known to Chinese consumers, as demonstrated by the basic questions on the product posted by prospective buyers on Baidu, the scarcity of content provided on the brand’s website, and the unimpressive number of followers of its Weibo account. As China’s laundry care market is characterized by mounting competition, the company decided to position itself through the launch of a new product: the laundry gel ball, promoted as “a healthy and trendy new experience” (jiankang shishang xin tiyan 健康时尚新体验), in contrast to traditional liquid detergents. The target audience consists of young consumers, who do their purchasing online. The word “change” (gaibian 改变) in the pay-off, therefore, should not be interpreted exclusively as linked to the racial transmogrification, but also to the new product and washing habits of the Chinese. Needless to say, the end of breaking through the market doesn’t justify the means. However, it constitutes another detail that needs to be taken into account.

Giovanna Puppin is Lecturer and Programme Director of the MA Media and Advertising, Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester. She researches Chinese advertising and promotional culture, with a focus on issues of representation, identity, and power. Picture and video: Youtube/Qiaobi.

[Opinion] Context matters: The racist laundry ad was ignorant, but so were the reactions

By Innocent Mutanga for HKFP

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?

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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.

49 Myths about China: Myth 27: The Chinese are Racist

EXCERPTED from 49 Myths about China – By Marte Kjaer Galtung and Stig Stenslie (2015)

Myth 27 The Chinese are Racist

Many Chinese are too brainwashed to overcome their racist attitudes towards blacks.

—Internet commenter[1]

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.[2]

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.”[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] The hottest clubs hire African DJs.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.

Notes

  1. About.com, 1 June 2000, http://veritas-lux.blogspot.no/2013/05/research-shown-that-indiansare.html.
  2. 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.
  3. Frank Dikötter, The Discourse of Race in Modern China (London: Hurst and Company 1992), 195.
  4. “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.
  5. Heidi Østbø Haugen, “Afrikanere redder Kinas handel” [Africans Come to the Rescue of Chinese Trade], Ny Tid, 24 July 2009.
  6. Heidi Østbø Haugen, “Globaliseringens fotsoldater” [The Footsloggers of Globalization], Aftenposten Innsikt, October 2009.
  7. 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
  8. Jamie Monson, Africa’s Freedom Railway (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011).
  9. Ibid., 61.
  10. 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.