A Chinese detergent advertisement has sparked an uproar, with social media users criticizing it for the deliberate portrayal of racism.
The racist ad portrays a Chinese woman going about her activities when a black man enters the room in a seductive manner which the woman responds to positively. She beckons to the paint-streaked young man who deduces the gesture as a welcome move for him to continue. He leans to hint a kiss, only for the woman to shunt a detergent capsule in his mouth and then bundles him into a washing machine. After a cycle of muffled screams, the woman opens the lid and to her surprise, she is met by a smiling Asian man. He winks to the delight of the woman and the intended viewers. The slogan flashes up on the screen: change begins with Qiaobi.
So strong is the detergent, that it can wash away skin color from black to the ‘much desired’ Asian color.
Although the ad has been airing in China for months now, it had not attracted so much attention until this week when media reported on the matter and increased sharing on social media platforms. Apparently, it was not until the online discontent over the ad was picked up by a local English-language website, that it went viral, sparking conversations across the globe about racism in China.
"My god," wrote one user on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. "Don't Chinese marketing people get any education about race?" CNN reported.
“This is too awkward,” wrote another. “This could only happen with Chinese companies, who are the least sensitive towards racism.”
But Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics, had different sentiments arguing that the issues of racism did not come to mind during production and did not mean to harm Africans with the commercial. The company blamed foreign media for agitating the controversy. According to Aljazeera, the ad was also pulled down.
"We express regret that the ad should have caused a controversy," the statement issued late on Saturday said. "But we will not shun responsibility for controversial content."
"We express our apology for the harm caused to the African people because of the spread of the ad and the over-amplification by the media," the company said.
"We sincerely hope the public and the media will not over-read it."
“The foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad,” a man named only as Wang told the local Global Times tabloid. “We meant nothing but to promote the product, and we had never thought about the issue of racism.”
In addition to portraying black people in a negative light, the ad also lacks creativity. This is because a similar idea was first presented in an Italian ad, which was also offensive, some nine years ago.
The older commercial for a detergent shows a slim white man who is transformed into a masculine black man with the slogan “colored is better” at the end. Interestingly, even the background music for the two commercials have a comparable tune.
Xu Chunyan, an agent for the company, told New York Times that they “did this for some sensational effect.” He added: “If we just show laundry like all the other advertisements, ours will not stand out.”
As it appears, the idea flopped as people have come out strongly against the lack of sensitivity portrayed by the company.
Discrimination in China against Africans as well as the dark-skinned Chinese is deep rooted. A large number of African living in the southern Guangdong province, have complained of facing discrimination and prejudice from locals due in part to a widespread stigma against people with dark skins.