This article first appeared in Chinese on 土逗公社 (tǔ dòu gōngshè, tootopia.me) under the headline Chinese auntie and African monkey: the racism of domestic elites hits the big stage (中国大妈与非洲猴子：国产精英的种族主义登堂入室了); our original translation is published here with permission. 土逗公社’s original article on WeChat quickly racked up 50,000 views before being abruptly deleted, but versions of it are now circulating on multiple online platforms.
Note: Everything from the section that begins “White isn’t considered a color, but black is” is adapted from a May 2016 essay by the same author, also originally published in Chinese by 土逗公社.
I trust more than a few readers watched [lead actor] Zheng Kai 郑恺’s “Celebrate Together” (同喜同乐 Tóng xǐ tóng lè) skit on the evening of Chinese New Year’s Eve. It drew ridicule from many for its numerous racist scenes.
For example, at the skit’s start, Zheng Kai wears a Western suit amid fake monkeys and role-playing tribal Africans hopping to music by Latino singer Shakira, “Waka Waka.”
An African girl proudly asserts: “Since becoming a [train] attendant, my status has changed, I’m so gorgeous now, [if I] marry Mr. Perfect, it’ll be a win for life!”
A Chinese person (Lou Naiming 娄乃鸣) wears fake buttocks and puts on an accent to play an African mother. Just think, what if a white person applied black face paint and used an exaggerated accent to say, “I love America!” It’d be pilloried by the whole world.
Upon closer inspection, the monkey on stage is actually played by a black man…
[The actor] Da Bing 大兵 [real name Ren Jun 任军] comes on stage “riding” a giraffe, and says it’s an African shared bike.
And then, the girl proudly says, “I want to study in China, I want to be like Chinese people, pull up my sleeves and keep working hard, [let] people from around the world all give us a thumbs-up!”
[In the skit, the girl asks Zheng Kai to pretend to be her fiancé so that her mother will stop pestering her about getting married.] It’s clearly Chinese people who like to force marriage, how did it turn into an African mother forcing marriage, being saved by a Chinese man?
White isn’t considered a color, but black is
The blatant racism in this skit is no accident. As a matter of fact, in May 2016, a Chinese detergent ad, due to racist elements, caused controversy among online users at home and abroad. In the ad, a black male painter cozies up to an Asian woman. The Asian woman stuffs a detergent tablet into his mouth and stuffs him into a washing machine. A moment later, he “changes” into a glistening white-skinned Asian man.
This commercial was seen far and wide. More than a few Chinese and foreign internet users were outraged, and used every form of mockery to ridicule and point out the brimming racism. There were also internet users who discovered that this commercial totally copied an Italian color fixing detergent ad. In this Italian ad, a scrawny white male cozies up to a white woman. The white woman stuffs a detergent tablet into his mouth and stuffs him inside a washing machine. A moment later, he “changes” into a glistening black-skinned extremely muscly man.
The difference between these ads: in the Chinese ad, the black man is washed yellow; in the Italian ad, the white man is washed black. More than a few internet users felt the Italian detergent ad was less blameworthy because it declared “colored is better.”
The washing machine represents “purification.” In the Chinese ad, “purification” means washing the black-skinned black man until he turns into a white lotus-like fair-skinned Chinese man. On this level, the Italian detergent ad is deconstructive. It deconstructs the notion of “black is dirty” and dares to push forth the idea that “black isn’t dirty, a white person after purification turns into a black man.” As such, lots of people considered it politically correct.
I think the Chinese creator of that ad, in the midst of copying that Italian commercial, must have felt it very unusual: are Italians crazy? Why flip black and white upside-down? Why is black skin considered “clean”? At the same time, they very well may have snickered behind the Italian ad company’s back for “not understanding the market.”
Even though the Italian commercial seems to be more politically correct, I still don’t like it. While it showcases women’s sexual autonomy, using tools to transform the opposite sex into a more sexually attractive type, the transformed man’s sex appeal is very clichéd.
In China, insofar as a young man has sex appeal, in mainstream consumer culture it has already by degrees changed into that of a fair-skinned South Korean icon, whereas in Italy, bold and skinny men wearing long socks are perhaps wretched, with no one to make out with him. Muscular men are viewed as the good-at-sex type, and black men have long been rumored in various tales to be good at sex.
This commercial, no matter how hard it tries to flip traditional notions, can’t get away from gender blindness. But it’s still different from previous commercials in the way it sexually objectifies and commodifies men rather than women. How in keeping with the mainstream value of consuming men’s bodies!
In addition, the two commercials reflect the same reality: that we live in an ethnocentric world. White isn’t considered a color, but black is. It’s like how “male” isn’t considered a gender, but “female” is. “Race issues” refer to the plight of nonwhite people, and “gender issues” refer to “women’s problems.” Discrimination exists due to power dynamics. Those who are in power have the ability to set the terms, and in their eyes, the group they belong to is the standard, whereas other groups belong to an inferior second class. The Chinese commercial sees Asian people with pale skin as the standard, the center of the universe, while in the Italian commercial, “color” evidently only refers to black skin.
Chinese people who claim “this is not racism” are in fact endorsing racism
Take away most internet users, those who acutely sense the racism underlying the above commercials, and you still have plenty of Chinese netizens who say this isn’t racist, this is you being too sensitive, China has never discriminated against black people, where was your outrage when Asian people were being bullied by white people?
CinYa: Where were you hypocritical white lotuses when Chinese people in foreign countries were being bullied? [Editor’s note: “white lotus” is a pejorative for someone who pretends to be sweet and innocent while engaged in manipulation and scheming.]
Jrtsqfc: There are many Virgin Mary bitches among foreigners, they think drug addicts and alcoholics can be forgiven. Even serial killers have worshippers. Don’t know whose worldviews are more distorted…for me, the meaning of that commercial is quite obvious, the actress is an Asian, so only through having someone whose skin color contradicts hers can it show conflict. If there are people on the planet whose skin color is blue or purple, they will use these people. It’s very democratic.
I know that even though advocates have disseminated the international definition of “racism” a million times, there are still many who take objection. Just like “there is no gender discrimination,” protests against racism are often depicted as “performances” or gatherings of people making a fuss of nothing.
“Racial discrimination” is any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field of public life. [UN definition.]
This is my ten-thousandth time explaining the definition of “racism.” I eagerly await my ten-thousand-first.
The many Chinese people who claim “this is not racism” are in fact endorsing racism. On the one hand, they object to their own being discriminated against by white people. On the other hand, they discriminate against other nationalities, such as Africans and Indians. When they see Chinese people in foreign countries being struck on the subway, or the Oscars discriminate against Asians, they become outraged and even go so far as to hop the Great Firewall to curse on Facebook.
Zonggongsu: When Chinese people were beaten on subways in foreign countries and when Chinese girls were called “pigs” on planes, I didn’t see these anti-racism folk coming forward
Hsimvn Huangshiba: This is a bunch of B.S. When the Oscars discriminated against Asians, why didn’t I see you jump with this much joy?
Ershaowan-Qiaokaide: Here’s the question, is that fixing agent ad discriminating against white people?
But they are unaware of how many people of various races, even in this modern age, are willing to fight for racial equality. Some have been fired, some have been arrested, some have even sacrificed their lives. Sometimes, even though they recognize the existence of civil rights movements, even though the movements are relevant to their own race, they’ll still not care one iota, believing that through individual effort and achievement they can enter into the white man’s high society, free from discrimination. They oughta be crowned “giant infant keyboard warriors.”
But I don’t want to blame the racism on the national root of negative traits; there are reasons behind their infantile behavior. Contemporary China regrettably exudes a “newly rich” temperament. As the economy continues to grow, a small portion of people have grown rich in accordance with the opening-up policy, and a bigger portion are waiting on their road to riches. Those who have attained “wealth” all think they deserve the level of respect that white people get — or the respect afforded to the big capitalists in white-people countries. They turn to discrimination to deal with yet-to-become-rich black people.
On my WeChat Moments, some articles with more than 100,000 views argue that black people are a parasitic race, they specialize in seizing our women and impregnating them, they’ve come to China to spread viruses, and are ferocious, unreasonable, ill-mannered, and defecate and urinate in public. These unfathomably racist descriptions reflect the Chinese nouveau riche’s arrogance and anxiety. The arrogance is the result of heightened economic status coupled with a willful suppression of citizen cultivation; the anxiety comes from being a competitor in unstable global capital markets that are fragile as a leaf.
For small capitalists, businessmen from Africa are attacking their livelihoods. Many African businessmen are in international trade, doing bulk trading of clothing, electronic devices, daily necessities, and auto accessories. They compete with the international trade industry in China. As for big capitalists, China now can transfer the pressure of overcapacity to Africa, but when the whole world faces the problem of overcapacity, Africa will no longer be able to bear being China’s pressure valve. How can this unreleasable pressure but make people anxious?
Furthermore, when Chinese capital enters African countries, the nasty set of things with which Chinese enterprises use to exploit workers are used on African people, and is met with protest from African workers. At the start of 2011, of the 1,058 Chinese-funded clothing companies in South Africa, 562 of them were paying below minimum wage and failed to meet the payment standards stipulated by law, leading to censure from the South Africa Textile Federation, with several Chinese clothing factories in Newcastle receiving huge fines. The notorious practices of Chinese capital in Africa and South America has naturally triggered backlash, with hateful reprisals repeatedly being enacted. But Chinese media are more interested in news about Chinese businessmen being attacked in Africa.
1984 relays to us this message: to preserve a country’s stability, it must create enemies. As long as there are external enemies, internal conflicts can all be temporarily set aside as people pull together to fight against the bad guys. Public opinion tacitly accepts the discrimination and alienation of black people as rightful and just, and permits and wantonly propagates the opinion of racial superiority. We can’t help but worry that fascism, in these complicated times, might again rear its head.
The Chinese detergent ad, whether intentionally or not, caters to this thinking of racial superiority. Regardless of whether it’s patriotic youth who pay no mind to politics but are loudly nationalistic or left-wing/right-wing advocates, once possessed by the ghost of Nazism, they might burn their eyes red without a way to go back. If we fail to do a coolheaded reflection on the ideological trend around us, then we’ll have no way of escaping the imperceptible impact of its mental deficiency and anti-intellectualism.
Translation by Jiayun Feng and Anthony Tao