A use of blackface on China's top TV station during its most highly-watched program, the CCTV Spring Festival gala, drew worldwide controversy Thursday night with a skit that included an outlandish portrayal of an African woman by a Chinese actress who was also outfitted with an exaggerated bosom and derriere.
Besides the blackface, the short sketch also featured dancers of African descent wearing tribal costumes as well as an oversized monkey puppet (YouTube link here).
The skit was ostensibly a celebration of the recent cooperation between China and Kenya over the import of high-speed train technology, and even included Kenyan train stewardesses who have been brought over to China to receive specialized training.
Contrarily, some people have argued that the use of blackface isn't offensive in China because it does have the same tortured history of race relations like slave-owning past of the United States, arguing that "the attitudes of 'anti-blackness' we see in the present may actually be the internalization of white attitudes towards blacks by Asians."
Be as that may, it remains that China has a history of using blackface to depict people of other cultures as buffoons, undesirables or agreeable pushovers as seen in the CCTV skit that concluded with its blackfaced-Chinese actress loudly proclaiming: "I love China!"
Before blackface ever became a part of China's most important annual broadcast, it was a common part of its culture, seen throughout Chinese media. Here's a short history.
The Break-Up Guru
Blackface was prominently featured in this 2014 Chinese film in which director and star Deng Chao was covered head-to-toe with darkened body paint. Like other blackface depictions on this list, Deng uses gibberish to pretend to speak in his "native" tongue but ends up subverting the "ignorant savage" trope when it is revealed he is the "King of Mauritius" (watch the video here).
Like other examples here, this 2017 Chinese television show failed to distinguish between African and Indian cultures with its blackface depiction.
In this scene, "fresh meat" actor Jia Nailiang is described as "coming from Africa" even though the turban on his head identifies him as Sihk.
UP10TION Reality Show Appearance
A Chinese television station discretely decided not to air a segment of its show Fan Heart Attack Idol in 2016 that featured Korean boy band UP10TION member Kuhn wearing darkened face paint as part of a "punishment" for the show.
I Want to Be a Star
Decidedly not China but on the edge of the Sinosphere, Singaporean television show I Want to Be a Star courted controversy by casting a Chinese actor as a character that started out African, changed half-way into Indian and ended as the wholly offensive "Muthu."
Hong Kong Filipino Maid Ad
Hong Kong displayed some racial insensitivity of its own in 2014 when a domestic helper insurance ad for Hong Leong Bank featured a Chinese man donning face paint and a gigantic afro to portray one of the region's prospective 300,000 maids.
Desmond Tan Instagram Controversy
Another blackface controversy surfaced in Hong Kong the next year that resulted in actor Desmond Tan ultimately deleting photos from his Instagram profile that had shown him dressed up in blackface for a 2011 TV show, A Song to Remember.
Black Face Festival
While this list can be indefinitely extended if we were to include rival countries like Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia to the list, we can also find other Chinese examples if we were to move away from depictions in popular media. For example, China has a great number of traditional customs, and it can count "blackface" as one of them.
Far removed from its negative Western associations, the Yi minority people of Yunnan celebrate "blackface festival" by smearing black rice ash over each other's faces in order to win the rarest of Chinese commodities, luck.
And, though not technically "blackface," China's appropriation of other cultures have led to a number of notable controversies:
Xinhua's Bizarre Indian Caricature
China's territorial stand-off with India last year resulted with a bizarre portrayal of an Indian stereotype on English-language current affairs show The Spark. Although skin tones were left alone, the mock-up featured a turban, a ridiculous beard, and a thick Indian accent that offended more than a few Twitter users.
Yu Huiping Photo Exhibit
Members of Beijing's African expat community were outraged at an exhibit by Chinese photographer Yu Huiping that compared African people to wild animals, going so far as to give it a title meaning "outward appearance follows inner reality."
Qiaobi Laundry Detergent
Deemed the "most racist ad ever," this television commercial caused controversy in 2016 by showing a man with dark-complexion being "cleansed" into a lighter-skinned Chinese man. Qiaobi eventually offered a befuddled apology for the "white-washing," offering that Western observers may be "too sensitive" and overreacted to the ad.
Established almost a century ago in Hong Kong, Darlie Toothpaste finally succumbed to public pressure changed its name from the egregiously offensive "Darkie Toothpase." However, the brand continues to be known as "black person toothpaste" in Chinese (黑人牙膏) along with its brand icon of a grinning black man wearing a top hat.
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any sign that its Chinese name will soon change. Darlie owners Hawley & Hazel has trademarked the name and image and has successfully protected against the infringement of its intellectual property, "Black People."
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