High-profile blackface scandals usually produce public embarrassment, apologies, and promises of self-reflection, but not when the Chinese government is responsible. This is what we saw last week on the eve of the Lunar New Year, when Chinese state broadcaster CCTV televised its annual live variety show, which draws hundreds of millions of viewers, featuring black-faced dancers.
For those who think Beijing’s official line is wrong, check out the Chinese internet, where rampant racism against blacks is often too frightening to repeat.
This performative use of blackface belies a problem of endemic racism in the country, which comes after growing discrimination against blacks and Africans by the Chinese government, which appears to be aggravated by the pandemic.
Last April, the authorities of south guangzhou city, which has China’s largest African community, has launched a campaign to force-test Africans in the city for coronavirus, and ordered them to self-isolate or self-quarantine at designated hotels. The owners have evicted African residents, forcing many to sleep on the streets, in hotels or in shops. Some restaurants have refused to serve black customers.
Scenes of Africans sleeping in the street with their belongings were widely shared on social media, which sparked outrage among African communities around the world and public reprimand from some African governments.
But the Chinese government denied that the conduct of the authorities was discriminatory, and accused the Western media of causing the problems between China and African countries.
For those who think Beijing’s official line is wrong, check out the Chinese internet, where rampant racism against blacks is often too frightening to repeat. The use of racial slurs is rampant on black social media chats. People of African descent living in China are often described as visas that exceed the length of their stay, pay no taxes and infringe on Chinese culture.
People of African descent living in China are often described as visas that exceed the length of their stay, pay no taxes and infringe on Chinese culture.
African migrants as well as mixed Afro-Chinese marriages are commonly described as appalling for the Chinese race. In a China, where the birth rate is gradually decreasing due to family planning policies, that is, the one-child policy in the past and the two-child policy in the present, not too many years later China will become a country with a black man and a foreign Muslim majority, lamented a person on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. In other cases, some Chinese women in relationships with black men have been disparaged and vilified.
During the Lunar New Year’s live performance last week, as the number of the African song and dance began, the dancers embarked on a show meant to celebrate traditional African culture. But viewers soon realized that the dancers were Chinese, their skin darkened by makeup.
The criticism came quickly. On Twitter, Black Livity China, an African-led activist group in China, called the show extremely disappointing. We cannot stress enough the impact of these scenes on African and Afro-Diasporic communities living in China, the group said.
In response to the backlash, China’s Foreign Ministry said the performance was a sign of respect and those who make a fuss on the program obviously have ulterior motives.
This is not the first time that the Lunar New Year spectacle has featured racist cartoons. At CCTV’s 2018 Lunar New Year Gala, ask the intended to showcase the Chinese government’s friendship with African countries and China’s investment in Africa featured a black-faced Chinese actress with an exaggerated fake posterior and a fruit basket on her head, reciting lines like, China has done so much for Africa and i love chinese people! I love China! She was accompanied by an Ivorian actor dressed in a monkey costume.
Just like in 2021, the 2018 skit sparked outrage from audiences around the world. [C]dignified at best, completely racist at worst. Its Africa, so bring out the dancers and tribal animals? one person commented on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been touting the creation of a “community of shared future for humanity on the international stage. One has to wonder if these protests are just a manifestation of the community type or international system that Xi wishes to build.
Chinese government and social media companies occasionally censor hate speech online, and some users have been warned by the authorities to stop their racist rhetoric. But Beijing is largely responsible for the persistence of racial hatred online. It is the result of decades of harsh repression of any discussion or activism that promotes ideas of racial and ethnic equality and human rights, combined with ever-growing nationalist and chauvinistic government propaganda.
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