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Qiaobi Ad: [Compilation] Opinion and analysis pieces about the notorious #RacistChineseAd

Tuesday 21 June 2016

The opinions and analysis below are chronologically organised

1. On why the racist Chinese ad MAY NOT be as racist as you think

By Roberto Castillo for AfricansInChina.Net

On May 26th, The Shanghaiist broke the (SinoAfrican) internet by bringing a Chinese ad to the attention of its mainly American audience. The ad – which you can watch below (Youku see here) – is a commercial for a Chinese detergent called Qiaobi and has been deemed as ‘highly racist’ or the ‘most racist advert ever’ by a whole host of American media outlets like this, this and this.

In the video, a paint-splattered black man catcalls a Chinese woman and approaches her confidently as she lures him with her finger. As he attempts to kiss her, she places a detergent bag in his mouth and shoves his body into a washing machine.Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 12.26.10 am Once the machine cycle is done, a young (robotish, if you ask me) Asian man emerges as clean as can be. At no point during the short ad, are we the audience aware of the status of the men in relation to the woman. Is the black man her boyfriend, fiancee, or husband? My original reading! Or is he only the painter, or maybe an ‘immigrant worker’ (as one of my Chinese friends in Australia saw it)? Is the young and clean machine-made Asian man the replacement for the black guy? Where will he replace him, in painting, or in a relationship?

Amid the outcry, users of diverse Chinese online platforms have reported that the ad is running on national television and before the movies at Wanda Cinemas (owner of AMC theatres). Contrasting versions report that the ad is no where to be found both in offline and online media environments on the Mainland. Latest reports (May 27) claim that the ad has disappeared from Chinese social media platforms.

There are a few ways in which one can read and interpret this ad – I will come back to these readings some paragraphs down. Meanwhile, after cringing in horror and anger when I first saw the ad, I became even more irritated to read the ways in which the ad was decoded by American writers, and the ways they explained it to their (Western) audiences. In short, the discussion was totally kiScreen Shot 2016-05-29 at 12.27.43 amdnapped by the (hegemonic) way of discussing issues of race that Americans are so eager to export/impose. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the ad is fucked up in every single, possible aspect. In nicer words, scholarly, it is profoundly (and maybe naively) insensitive and very very problematic. As the most recent manifestation of a century-old trope it is indeed ‘racist’. But I don’t necessarily see it as evidence of a ‘Chinese’ racism, or a culturally specific form of racism. And this is what troubles me.

Having done research for the last 6 years on African presence in China, and being very interested in all kinds of SinoAfrican exchanges, I’m often suspicious of people/students arguing that China is a ‘racist’ society (esp. when they’ve never been to China). ‘Really, how do you know that?’ I usually reply. Again and again, people point to incidents like the detergent ad. (By the way, this is not the first online incident relating to blackness in China. It may be, however, the one that has gotten the most play ever).Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 12.29.38 amThe ensuing explanation is often short – as if the instances were always self-explanatory – and concludes that Chinese are ALSO ‘racist’ and that there’s ‘racism’ in China. At this point, I usually go into ‘I can’t overemphasise’ mode, overemphasising indeed the importance of understanding that ‘racism’ (and the same goes for the constructed category of ‘race’) is a context-based multilayered phenomenon, with uncountable ramifications (e.g. specific hybridisations with class and gender), that needs to be understood against the lived realities of diverse social contexts. In other words, there’s no one kind of ‘racism’, and ‘racism’ (whatever you may call that) is culturally specific.

The way I understand ‘racism’ (and feel free to lambast me for this, if you need), is as a covert, systematic, and persistent (e.g.that is almost inescapable) form of discrimination embedded in social institutions (like the mighty American police, in case you were looking for an example), that grants privileges to one group while denying them to others. Racial prejudices, and isolated forms of discrimination, although central to ‘racism’ are not inherently always ‘racist’. TScreen Shot 2016-05-29 at 12.35.03 amhe ‘-ism’ here, at least for me, denotes a set of systemic practices. These practices, embedded in the ‘-ism’, are just not present in China (and I have countless evidence to prove this). Any foreigner (whites included) that has lived in China knows that there are plenty of racial prejudices and forms of discrimination (not only against foreigners) and that they are usually very overt (as you now know), rather than covert. Often, as I tell my students, people claiming that there’s racism in China seem more interested in showing (in a justificatory way) that there are ‘racist’ societies outside the Euro-American world. Interestingly, they are usually rather lazy (or incompetent) to point towards evidence of deep-seated, systemic, practices of ‘racialisation’ as those pervasive in, say, the land of freedom and justice, the USA. Indeed, from my conversations with multiple non-Western foreigners in China throughout the years (many of them from Africa), I have argued here that while many feel that some Chinese people dislike foreigners, ‘there is no structural racism’ in China. Many foreigners that arrive in China assuming that they will confront the types of racism they have confronted elsewhere (or that construe certain Chinese practices as ‘racist’), soon find their views changing.

In short, the ad is not evidence that Chinese society (whatever that means!) is ‘racist’ but rather that many people in China are still very ignorant, naive, or plainly idiotic. No systemic practice in China (Sorry, me dear China bashers).

Now coming back to the ‘readings’

Often, when discussing these incidents, you get a whole bunch of academics (me included) and pundits that quote the long-standing historical perceptions on skin colour in China. The simple explanation of this is a China 101 from my Mandarin class some years ago: in (historical) China they appreciated fairness in skin because higher classes would normally stay away from hard (under the sun) labour. Peasants were normally darker and that leads Chinese people to discriminate against dark-skinned people. ‘So, you’rScreen Shot 2016-05-29 at 12.37.57 ame like a peasant’, my 101 teacher told me when I complained about something that I perceived as discrimination while hailing taxis in Beijing (note for American readers: I’m a ‘brown’ Mexican, but my privilege makes me ‘white’ in that country). The implication of this is something many Chinese pride themselves on: that China cannot be ‘racist’ but merely ‘classist’. While I believe that ‘racism’ as I explained above does not happen in China, I’m afraid that in cases like the detergent ad the class/dark skin explanation may not be enough. While respecting historical and culture specific developments, I’m troubled by the simplicity of this explanation. It plainly falls short to describe something that is indeed way more complex, and it often comes across as a childish denial. “We don’t like you because you’re brown. It’s not your fault, it’s the sun, right?” “Because you’re brown, we think less of you,” one of my good (and racially aware) friends used to ‘joke’ (don’t worry, I took revenge :)).

In addition to this, there’s one other often invoked explanation when it comes to incidents like the detergent one. Here, the story line goes: ‘it’s not about Africans, the Han were historically contemptuous of dark-skin people in the southern imperial frontiers’. There’s a plethora of stories about the so-called Kunlun (slaves) and debates about them either being South Asian or African. When I hear this, I think of incidents like this – in which a women calls a black man with whom she’s fighting a ‘zebra’. Isn’t there a vicious/malicious intentionality in the video? The story line continues: ‘Han disdain for southern dark skin was at some not-very-clear point in history transposed onto Africans’. That ‘not-very-clear point in history’ is (look no further) COLONIALISM, and Chinese intellectuals contact with Western racial theories (e.g. Kang Youwei and Liang QiQiao).

It’s true, issues of racial prejudice in China are informed by deep-seated class issues, but also, and let’s not fool ourselves, by global (colonial and postcolonial) imaginaries of racial superiority (e.g. white supremacy). So, as you may imagine, the iterations of something that looks like ‘racism’ in contemporary China, emerge out of a complex global media environment, rather than being a ‘class’ (or a necessarily ‘Chinese’) issue. Here, the often invoked media element is ‘Hollywood’. Every foreigner in China has a story of a Chinese friend explaining how afraid he/she feels of black (or Arab) people thanks to American movies. This was my Mandarin 101 class ‘racial explanation’ number two: “Chinese are not ‘racist’, they are just naive and confused thanks to Hollywood’s historical representation of people of colour,” or so the explanations goes. Difficult to buy! But this one is a bit more complex, and it’s not only about Hollywood. Watch this, and this and cry. Indeed, this one also goes back to issues in contemporary global imaginaries that keep selling whiteness as something desirable and blackness/brownness (‘otherness’) as the binary opposites.

Here is where the detergent ad makes a very complex turn/tweak (that makes the whole thing so difficult to grasp). It opposes blackness to a Chinese ‘whiteness’ (some Chinese people on my WeChat call it ‘yellowness’) thus inputing a ‘different’ answer to this (colonial racial) equation: the black individual does not serve the purpose of whiteness becoming the correct way of being (ontology). Rather, it presents the Chinese man as the correct, perfect, clean anScreen Shot 2016-05-29 at 12.40.23 amswer. This is not new, there have been other instances of using non-white ‘foreigners’ (or Chinese of mixed heritage – see the case of Lou Jing) to reinforce the boundaries of Chineseness in ethno-nationalist discourse. Indeed, the ad can also be read as a great example of policing Chineseness, and the policing of Chinese femininity (obviously, more readings may emerge, as the ad makes more global rounds). There have been other historical instances in which Chinese men have policed women’s sexual practices when they related to black men (e.g. the Nanjing anti-African protests). Indeed, as China grows confident in her new role as emerging/consolidating global power, the mixture of her anxieties mixed with traces of widely circulating ethno-nationalist discourses in the country, could lead to the emergence of more, rather than less, things like the detergent ad.

Having said this, I still believe that cases like this can also be seen as productive in the sense that people in China could learn about these global sensitivities. Gauging from those Chinese netizens who have condemned the ad, in the process of China’s ‘going out’, Chinese people will have to deal with more multicultural politics (hopefully not in the American fashion) and learn about the complex and problematic histories of colonialism that inform global mediascapes. So, I’m afraid that soon scholars and pundits won’t be able to invoke Chinese disdain for peasants (e.g. class issues), or the Hollywood inflicted damage (e.g. racist American ideoscapes), as the root cause for iterations of global racist expressions in China – such as the Qiaobi ad – and will have to hold some people in China somehow accountable. Not without, however, understanding/respecting the specificity of ‘Chinese’ views and practices.

2. Why the racist Chinese ad MAY be just as racist as you think

By Nicole Bonnah for Black Lives in China, PARTLY as a response to this opinion.

An advert for Chinese detergent brand, Qiaboi, has garnered widespread attention recently on social media platforms and outlets across China and overseas, after The Shanghaiist published what they deemed to be an “incredibly racist advertisement”.

The commercial has reportedly appeared on Chinese television and during the advertisement slots before screenings in Wanda Cinemas this month but was first uploaded and criticised by American Expat and musician, Christopher Powell. There is definitely more than enough social engagement going on right now concerning whether or not this advert is truly representative of a deep-rooted “racism” in China, but I have decided to offer my two-cents, if you will indulge me for a moment or two.

The offering of my two-cents, is partly in response to Roberto Castillo’s recent opinion piece, titled “[Opinion] On why the racist Chinese ad may not be as racist as you think #SinoAfrica” and also in part to the four-part documentary I am producing about the Black Experience of individuals and groups in China titled #TheBlackOrient. I am offering a differing perspective but hope to add value to further dialogue around this subject.

Both Castillo and I agree that the advert is “profoundly (and maybe naively) insensitive and very very problematic” – Yes, it is “indeed ‘racist’” but when it comes to analysing what kind of ‘evidence’ this advert provides or alludes to in terms of representing a culturally specific form of racism or “Chinese racism” is where we part ways.

I’m a black woman who has been living and working in China for three years. As a journalist here, I’ve taken great interest in the growing black and African presence in China and have researched this and defining differences between black “expat” life and black “migrant” life. I have interviewed a number of black people from the continent and diaspora, and having listened to countless black narratives, I am often suspicious of people arguing that racism doesn’t exist in China.

I do not argue that China is wholly a racist society, however I believe that racism is well and alive in a number of different arenas throughout China. I do not necessarily believe that racism should be critically analysed as “context based” either – this would open up a pandoras box of accessing who’s eyes and ears are beholding and defining these “contexts”. Evaluations of racism using this practice would undoubtedly be formed based upon positions of privilege or under-privilege, I do however understand the importance of acknowledging how multilayered and complex racism is and has become.

Considering racism to be “culturally specific” and so redefining what ‘racism’ is or resembles is dangerous territory. Yes, culturally, Chinese prefer lighter skin as it is traditionally acknowledged as a sign of wealth. Yes – “peasants were normally darker” in China which leads to discrimination against People of Colour or darker-skinned people, but the same can be said for parts of Africa, the Caribbean, India and so on. The classist theory, Castillo is right, will not suffice. And if the advert is simply invoking Chinese perceptions about class/dark skin, why was an African man cast, rather than a ‘dark’ native Chinese man from one of the many ethnic minority groups here in China?

Racism is not always covert, nor systematic or persistent. Racial prejudice or isolated acts of racial discrimination is a part of the make-up of racism and is not always institutionalised but can manifest itself in a number of ways. This includes, expressed thoughts and deeds that perpetuate ideals of Eurocentric beauty, superiority and the subjugation and discrimination of those that do not meet these ‘ideals’.

Overtly expressing your dislike for my broad nose and “dirty” skin because your cultural frame of reference deems my aesthetics so, does not make this kind of statement any less racist then if expressed covertly, behind closed doors, which was then systematically used with intent to deny me a privilege that someone else would later be offered. This is a rather simplified example but none the less, in principal, conveys my point.

Racial prejudice in China as a result of colonial and postcolonial “Imaginaries” of racial superiority doesn’t just look like racism – it is. Just like imperialist views of the East and Africa as primitive nations can be added to the many “global imaginaries” people contend with – naivety, and being “confused” as a result of this, would and does not stand as a legitimate rationale to maintain sentiments of racial prejudice or superiority over another.

The granting of privileges to one group while denying them to others transcends the systematic practices of institutions and does not entirely define what ‘racism’ is. Isolated forms of discrimination are indeed central to ‘racism’ and are too, ‘racist’ – the denial of a job as an educator because you’re black, the lack of freedom to walk down the street without being the subject of racial slurs, to be denied entry to a social space because your the ‘wrong’ colour, to be subject to tighter vetting/screening in work and social settings to that of your ‘white’ counterparts, to be dehumanised and represented as a stereo-typed caricature in an advert – ALL racist.

Many of the Chinese individuals who have kindly agreed to feature in my documentary have all been asked outrightly – Do you think racism exists in China? The prevailing answer is yes, the cause and impact, multilayered. Ignorance and lack of exposure are the themes that commonly raise their heads, however views that Africans, are dirty, smelly, uneducated sub-human criminals (often in the face of evidence that proves otherwise) cannot be reduced to an explanation rooted in “people in China are still very ignorant, naive or plainly idiotic”… [KEEP READING HERE]

3. Reply to: Why the racist Chinese ad MAY be just as racist as you think

By Roberto Castillo for AfricansInChina.Net

Nicole, as I told you in a previous conversation, I truly appreciate that you took the time to engage with some of the ideas that I shared on my blog. Here, I intend to give you a formal reply. I will leave it at the level of ‘post comments’, but feel free to reply as you find more convenient (if you want to reply at all).

Also, as I told you on Twitter, I agree with most of your ideas and I do not find that our pieces are in stark opposition but rather in a fruitful conversation. Rather than parting ways with you here, I am hoping to get our ideas and understandings closer. So, here I offer ‘my two-cents’, as you say, on certain aspects of your piece that called my attention (or that made me feel something). It is important to note, however, that I fully respect your insights, and appreciate your experiences in China. Here, I only intend to share with you what I think, in a fraternal way, rather than explaining/arguing that things are like this or that. I am also looking forward to see the work that I hear you have been doing.

For the sake of clarity, I have divided this reply in six sections.

Minor clarifications:

First, I do believe that you dissected some of the things I wrote and approached them separately. Thus, at times taking them out of context, in order to make your argument. I am not fully against this, but I hope that by having extracted the paragraphs and quotations below, I have not done that to your writing.

Second, when I say that ‘I am often suspicious of people/students arguing that China is a ‘racist’ society’, I am referring to those – as noted in my post – that have never been to (or have little experience in) China. It is not uncommon to find people that arrive in China with many preconceived ideas (prejudices), and narratives about racism are amid these preconceptions (I partially did this 10 years ago). As Barry Sautman and Yan Hairong argue in this SMCP piece, people tend to generalise about a ‘Chinese tendency to be racist’. By me saying that I am suspicious 1) I am not absolutely denying the possibility that ‘racism’ could exist in China; 2) I am highlighting the fact that many people have prejudices about China and that I am not necessarily alright with that – at least not when I teach, or write.

Rejecting ‘contextualisation’

I understand that you have it that China is not a ‘racist society’ but that ‘racism is well and alive in a number of different arenas throughout China’. I partially agree with you. Certain practices that could be read as ‘racist’ emerge in the experiences of different individuals (despite the darkness of their skin) in their journeys throughout the country (I have personally experienced this). Often, as you may agree, these practices affect and impact on the lives of foreigners (I personally did not get some jobs because I am not white). What strikes me from your discussion is your suggestion that ‘racism’ does not need to be critically analysed as ‘context based’. I read this as: racism does not need to be contextualised, correct me if I am wrong. It is almost impossible for me to accept this premise. It goes against my most fundamental beliefs about the need for different/multiple voices to fight oppression and hegemony (I hope not to sound academic/militant here but the need for critical contextualisation has been clear to me since before I got into academia – and it may as well be the reason why I abandoned my journalistic pursuit).

Having said this, I like to think that I understand where you are coming from when you talk about opening up “pandora’s box”. There is always the risk that people with more power would define/shape/lead the definition/interpretation of what anything is (i.e. as in when white people try to explain away racism in the ‘West’, I will come back to this below). I hope I am correctly interpreting your fear. In my understanding, in particular when we live in transnational spaces, this risk is higher if we do not fight to highlight the importance of contextualising.

Indeed, I find your (partial) rejection of the need for context in this case a bit paradoxical. My reading of your piece is that you are actually trying to provide certain context. Weren’t you trying to explain/argue whether or not ‘racism’ exists in China? (Or whether or not the ad is representative of deep-rooted ‘racism’?). To me, you are attempting to contextualise what you have found in China (e.g. the ad and other practices) using your background and your experiences as a ‘Black British’ woman and mixing them with your experiences in China. This is what I value most in your piece. However, since you are a journalist, it kind of troubles me that you may not recognise the need to contextualise such problematic issues as the ones we are discussing.

As I hinted in our tweet exchange, my take here is that if we fail to contextualise the racial prejudices and discrimination that (may) lead to what you call ‘racism’ in China, then, what are we talking about? Especially when this conversation is ‘global’.

If ‘we’ do not make an attempt to critically contextualise what you call ‘racism’, then what is ‘racism’? How are ‘we’ supposed to know what we’re talking about? And this ‘we’ is the bunch of people from different cultures/languages that have read both our pieces – and that are thinking through these issues right now. Is ‘racism’ self-explanatory/self-evident (globally)? Does it need no explanations? Is it a ‘given’ that ‘we’ all understand? Is it, then, something that exists by itself in ‘nature’ beyond all social constructions (how many times have I heard white people saying that ALL human societies are ‘racist’?)? And if so, how do ‘we’ understand it? Is there only one way to understand it? Who defines what is racism constituted of (or what qualifies as ‘racist’)?

If we do not provide context to certain practices that may be decoded by some people as ‘racist’, then are we supposed to import explanations from other places (e.g. other ‘contexts’) like Britain and the US? Wouldn’t this be ‘Eurocentric’? Yes, I know that I am taking this a bit too far, but there is a reason. I believe that if we do not attempt to contextualise we run the risk of allowing ‘Eurocentric’ (and by this here I don’t necessarily mean ‘white’) views to tell/impose a single story of what constitutes ‘racism’. The same goes for anything else that goes without contextualisation. I have been through a fair share of discrimination in my life to let things be explained by one single story/answer.

Now, contextualisation is not ‘evaluating’, as you seem to imply. To provide context is also not to ‘justify’, ‘defend’, or ‘splain away’, as an award winning journalist (Oh me God!) seemed to suggest on Twitter. To contextualise is to do away with monolithic explanations in the name of multiplicity and heterogeneity. Contextualisation serves to reject the Universal in light of the specific. In this day and age of hyper-communication and transnationality, I believe the work of contextualising to be of paramount importance. I cannot overemphasise how much I believe that by contextualising we are more likely to protect against powerful, hegemonic, voices taking over. So, if ‘racism’ is not a given and it is a social construction as I hope you will agree, then it follows that in different societies this complex and multilayered phenomenon would have ‘specific’ characteristics. Why not try to unveil/unearth/understand them in their specificity? Should we allow our anger (from ‘racist’ experiences elsewhere) to take us into a higher moral ground from where to judge other ‘culturally specific’ forms of ‘racialisation’?

Contextualising is important because if I try to contextualise your ‘rejection’ of the importance of context, then I may be able to understand that some people coming from histories oppression would be sick and tired of ‘contextualisation’ – especially when this ‘contextualisation’ has been historically performed by the oppressing group and used as a justification. Here, I am thinking of some white people in Australia (don’t know if it’s the same in Britain) when they attempt to ‘contextualise’ (in a justificatory sense) and diminish the violent, brutal and destructive history of their presence in the continent/island, in order to appease their own guilt (or to distance themselves from guilt). Had I grown up exposed to this type of ‘contextualisation’, I would certainly also reject contextualisation outright:

‘Enough’, I would cry. But when we go to other lands (or move in transnational settings), when we get immersed in other cultures, things are a bit different. Especially, when you go somewhere outside the ‘West’. I hope that you can see that in this case, I am not trying to ‘contextualise’ – in that justificatory sense – Chinese racial prejudice, and obviously I am not trying to appease my mind here. I am trying to understand the Chinese cultural context to see what happens, why it happens, what forms this may take in the future, and how to bloody fight this!

Anyway, I think it is enough with contextualisation (for the moment).

‘Racism’

I do not want to get into definitions here. I have provided what I think is my understanding of ‘racism’ and I fully understand that you may have some things to ad to that. That is the beauty of exchanging ideas (Actually, I think that if we put our ideas together, we will get a more solid/robust argument, rather than a contrasting one). So, when you claim things like:

Racism is not always covert, nor systematic or persistent. Racial prejudice or isolated acts of racial discrimination is a part of the make-up of racism and is not always institutionalised but can manifest itself in a number of ways. This includes, expressed thoughts and deeds that perpetuate ideals of Eurocentric beauty, superiority and the subjugation and discrimination of those that do not meet these ‘ideals’.

Or,

Racial prejudice in China as a result of colonial and postcolonial “Imaginaries” of racial superiority doesn’t just look like racism – it is. Just like imperialist views of the East and Africa as primitive nations can be added to the many “global imaginaries” people contend with – naivety, and being “confused” as a result of this, would and does not stand as a legitimate rationale to maintain sentiments of racial prejudice or superiority over another.

Although, I find myself mostly in agreement, I have certain qualms. I strongly believe, for instance, that racial prejudice and racism are not the same thing. I noted this in my piece. Simply put, we all have prejudices and they do not always amount to (or transform into) racist views. Yes, when the expectations embedded in prejudice become institutionalised or internalised, then we can talk of an ‘-ism’. But that does not always happen. In the case of China, these types of prejudices (that we now call ‘racial prejudices’) date from before European contact and are exemplified by the ways in which the Han (which didn’t call themselves ‘Han’, then) imagined ‘otherness’ at the borders. As you may know, these prejudices got revamped and built into a more solid body of ‘knowledge’ (I like to think of it as a ‘body of stupidity’) after Chinese thinkers tried to accommodate Western racial theories with Confucianist hierarchies and ethnocentric perceptions of Chineseness.

I, as well as you, have interviewed (talked to) a number of black (and brown) people in China, and I have also listened to different narratives and experiences. Many of the people that I been working around and befriending have it that in China, once you learn the language and are able to perform ‘Chineseness’, things change. Prejudice (which I think is mainly an ignorant response) fades in both directions once you learn to communicate with Chinese. This is reported by most of my contacts and it is something I underwent my self while living in the country. Now, I am not saying that prejudice magically disappears once you speak Chinese, but things change – generally for good, ask around! Prejudice is different to racism in that it may transform, change, or even disappear (at the individual level). Racism, on the other hand, is – as you know – much more resilient and does not go away (easily), as American and European histories of (murderous and violent) racism show. In other words, prejudice tends to disappear when people meet and befriend (NOT in Europe? Well, maybe not). I wish racism could just fade like this.

Also, I have always felt that going to another country to impose your own views, even when they emerge out of your own struggles against oppression, is itself oppressing. I do not know what goes on in your circles, but if I have learnt something from Africans in China is that while many of them find issues of racial prejudice and discrimination, they are usually very careful when it comes to qualifying these practices as ‘racism’. This is a perception, I must disclose, that I found more amongst Africans that have lived many years in the country. From my conversations with both young and old, newcomers are more prone to interpret certain practices as ‘racist’.

All this makes me think of your point of racism being ‘well and alive in a number of different areas throughout China’. I wonder: when was the moment when you decided to qualify those things you saw in China as being ‘racist’ (or as evidence of ‘racism’)? Is there a process behind this statement? Did you get to this point after number of years/experiences? Did this feeling emerge early on in your sojourn in China? As you claimed in an interview for The China Africa Project, ‘being a Black British woman makes you be particularly sensitive to certain issues’. Did you allow some space for those issues not to take over your experiences and, more importantly, your interpretation of things you saw in China? Or, did you decide to use your British experience ‘lens’?

Subtext reading without context: Is the black male a ‘helper’?

I found your readings of the ‘subtext’ very interesting. As I told you during our brief exchange, I believe that in terms of reading subtexts (which is a 2nd or 3rd level of semiotic analysis), our backgrounds and experiences are crucial, and determine what we ‘read’. They provide a context to the ways in which we ‘decode’ meanings embedded in any cultural object (e.g. the ad). Here, I will go back a bit to the discussion on ‘contextualisation’. I believe that your reading of the ad (e.g. ‘that he is the “help” in the house and is over-stepping his boundaries) cries for some contextualisation. As I told you, my original reading was that he is the husband, boyfriend, or fiancée. This may emerge out of my own research. For the last 6 years, I have been working around many Africans that have married Chinese women and many live in nice apartments like the one in the ad. My question here is: without paying attention to the Chinese context (e.g. Black males are marrying Chinese women in many cities) how accurate is a reading of the subtext that places the black man as a ‘helper’? In the Chinese context, I would say, not very accurate. The ‘policing of Chinese femininity’, a point in which we both agree, is not interested in preventing Chinese woman from having affairs with the ‘help’ (btw, there’s no black helpers in China), this policing is more interested in telling Chinese women: ‘do not marry Blacks’, or ‘the ascending glittering Chinese man is your portion and what is good and right’, as you rightly put it.

As you may know, encoding and decoding (and ‘preferred readings’ and so on) are crucial stages in the process of communication. Cultural objects (like the ad) are greatly affected, thus, by the context in which they are produced, consumed, etc. A reading that places the Black man as the woman’s partner is the result of thinking in contextual terms. If I was a ‘Westerner’ that has never been to China, maybe I would have bought into your ‘help’ reading. You may disagree with this, and this may be due to diverging forms of decoding the ad… but you have to agree that a context-based reading makes more sense than a decontextualised one.

Growing Afro-phobia?

Here I want to comment on the following: ‘the choice to use an African man was a purposeful one and a reflection of the growing Afro-Phobia in different Chinese districts’. I am not going to dispute your view. You may as well think this. But really, a growing ‘Afro-phobia’? Why call it ‘Afro-phobia’?

You and I both know – as many a China watcher – that a lot of things have changed for foreigners in the country in the last couple of years, and most of them NOT for good. I am not an expert, but some people talk about a conservative backlash throughout the country. Some others even talk about the reactivation of behaviours last seen during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ (Mao forbid!). My friends in the English education sector in China report the radicalisation of measures of control in terms of content dissemination, as they had not seen in years (witch-hunting included). There are myriad factors involved here: among the most important, the crisis of over-production that the country is undergoing. In China, every time there is a crisis like this one, ethno-nationalistic fervour arises (gently stirred by the Party). Xenophobic attitudes and practices are often associated with these periods. (I went to Beijing a couple of months ago and, in all my years in China I have never sensed more tension against foreigners than this time. I did not sense the friendly environment I was used to when I lived there in 2009ish).

My point here is two fold: first, why talk about ‘Afro-phobia’ without considering a possibly wider phenomenon of ‘Xenophobia’? (Note: I’m not claiming that there is Xenophobia in China). Second, since you argue that this Afro-phobia is ‘growing’: What is the evidence behind this statement? You seem to suggest that practices such as job denials or ‘racial slurs’ are evidence of this ‘growing’ Afro-phobia. These things have been happening for a long time, and while they are horrible, I hardly see them as evidence of something ‘growing’. Here, I want to highlight that it is not only ‘black’ people that fail to get teaching jobs. This also happens to many non-white people, although, in all honesty we must highlight that there are a lot of ‘blacks’ and ‘browns’ actually teaching English in China (Yes, sometimes remote China, but still China). The way many Chinese see this, is that you fail to get the job because they are looking for a ‘white person’, not because you are ‘brown’ (I got this explanation a couple of times). Also, you did not bring this one up but the problem with taxis drivers not wanting to take black people is also often presented as ‘exhibit A’ of ‘racism’ in China. This also happens to non-black foreigners, a lot, and it is mostly a prejudice. So, how do you gauge this ‘growing’ Afro-phobia? I wonder.

Western media often frame these (and other) incidents as evidence that the Chinese are particularly ‘racist’, or that there is a specific form of ‘Chinese racism’. For me, this is profoundly problematic not only because it tries to justify racism in the ‘West’ by saying: ‘Oh, look, it also happens in China, and it’s a Chinese “form”‘; but also because it blurs the long standing historical racist practices and policies discriminating against Chinese. I am not sure that these incidents in China are symptoms of ‘Afro-phobia’ rather than perhaps (but most likely) some type of Xenophobia mixed with a whole host of other factors. I truly believe that there is no evidence whatsoever to claim the existence of a systematic form of ‘Chinese racism’. In a similar vein, I do not see any evidence as to an ‘Anti-African immigrant’ campaign in Guangzhou, as has been claimed by some academics. Talking about ‘Afro-phobia’ and ‘Anti-African campaigns’ always sells (and will attract media attention*) because it does two (tricky) things: first, it casts Chinese as ‘racist’; and second, Blacks as ‘victims’. This, needless to say, serves the purpose of both satisfying ‘Western’ fantasies about a ‘racist China’ (I call this #RacistChinaPorn), at the same time as it soothes/appeases the guilt of some people in the ‘West’.

I doubt that making claims such as the ‘growing Afro-phobia’ one is of any help to the general discussion and, more importantly, to the improvement of the issues we’ve been discussing here. Certainly not helpful if what you want to do is provide a clearer, comprehensive perspective on what is going on in China, as I like to think we do. (Actually, ‘Afro-phobia’ may work better to describe what is going in India, although I am not acquainted with the situation there). I personally believe that telling a more comprehensive, complex China (and Africans in China) story benefits us all and pushes forward in the struggles against different forms of oppression.

I really appreciate your engagement in this conversation, it has been a learning process for me.

Respectfully,

Roberto Castillo

* Because these narratives fit perfectly with the ‘China pollutes’, ‘China the despot’, ‘China the neo-coloniser’ narratives that racist fear-mongers in the West have historically spread about China (and without much self-critique of their own implication).

Ps. Yesterday I overheard this: “We always blame China and the Chinese for copying, not being original, not having the capacity to be original. So, why is it that in the case of this ad we don’t take the same approach? They’re just copying, it’s not theirs, then it’s not their fault.” – While I don’t necessarily agree with this, I thought it was an interesting comment on the ways that global discussions approach the ‘China thing’.

4. Black people in China organise round table to discuss #RacistChineseAd

5. Outrage over the #RacistChineseAd: what did we learn?

Quoted articles:

‘Why the #RacistChineseAd MAY NOT be as racist as you think’: bit.ly/1WQJTDK

‘Why the#RacistChineseAd MAY just be as racist as you think’: bit.ly/1PayVXI

Roberto Castillo’s Reply

And 8 (early) things I learnt from the #RacistChineseAd row

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6. Barry Sautman & Yan Hairong say #RacistChineseAd doesn’t make China racist

By Sautman & Yan for SCMP

By now, there has been a fairly comprehensive discussion of the racist ad produced by the detergent company Qiaobi that depicts the laundering of a “dirty” black man into a “clean” Chinese. Beyond condemning the ad, those of us in China should also call for its perpetrators to be sanctioned under Article 9 of China’s Advertising Law, which forbids ads containing discrimination based on nationality, race, religion or gender.

One key aspect of the discourse has yet to be treated, however – its political uses. One of us has been interviewed about the ad by journalists for several “top” Western news sources. The main question posed was whether it shows that “the Chinese are racist”.

As of 2010, there were 43 million companies in China. Not all advertise, but even if only 2 per cent do, that’s almost one million companies. Many firms have issued a multiplicity of ads. Arguably, no conclusion about racism among the 1.4 billion Chinese can be made based on a single ad. When racist ads or statements appear in the Western media – and there have been plenty – no one claims they show “the Americans”, “the French”, and so on, are racist.

That said, the question of whether a racist world view is more common among Chinese than among other people needs to be answered, if only because Western media foster that impression. The idea of unique Chinese racism has spread to such an extent that “Are the Chinese Racist?” is one issue taken up in the recent, useful book by Marte Kjær Galtung and Stig Stenslie, 49 Myths about China.

A few recent surveys relate to this question. A 2008 World Public Opinion survey done by the University of Maryland among people in 16 countries concluded that the Chinese rank among the top with the greatest support for the importance of equal treatment for different races and ethnicities, second only to Mexicans. China also has the second-largest majority who disagreed that employers have the right to discriminate based on race or ethnicity, and are among the largest majorities that favour their government making efforts to prevent racial and ethnic discrimination.

A 2016 Amnesty International survey about refugees found that among people in 27 countries, Chinese were the most welcoming: almost half said they would welcome refugees to stay in their homes, compared to one in 10 among the whole sample.

In a study a few years back, scholars in Kansas, United States, and those in several Chinese cities applied the standard psychological instrument used to measure ethnocentricity. They found that Kansas university students were much more ethnocentric than their peers at the Chinese universities.

These surveys do not “prove” Chinese on the whole are less racist than other peoples. They do indicate, however, that it is spurious to imply, without substantial evidence, that racist views are more common among Chinese, not to speak of insinuating that Chinese in general are racist.

What much of the discourse in the West about the racist detergent ad has sought to do is most likely for political reasons. If, instead, the issue is being framed in that way to self-aggrandise Westerners, it is ironic. Europe is where African and African-descended people are particularly subject to violent racist victimisation.

According to the newspaper Die Zeit, more than 130 people, some Africans, were killed in racist street violence in Germany from 1990 to 2008. A study by US criminologist Richard Arnold noted that in Russia, in 2012 alone, racist skinheads killed 187 people. Such violence is far from rare in several other European countries as well. Attacks in Europe, as well as against African students in India and Malaysia, contrast with what African students in China have told us; they are generally able to move about in relative safety.

In discussing the racist detergent ad then, not only should generalising be eschewed, but the ad itself and the relationship of Chinese and people of African descent must also be seen in its larger context.

Barry Sautman is a professor in the Division of Social Science at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. Yan Hairong is an associate professor in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at Hong Kong Polytechnic University

7. US media outrage over detergent ad is pot calling the kettle black: “Chinese television commercial was certainly offensive and racist but criticism from America – which was founded on slavery – is a bit rich”

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.

8. 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?

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.

9. 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: heishushu 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.

See online: Qiaobi Ad: [Compilation] Opinion and analysis pieces about the notorious #RacistChineseAd