In the late 60’s, during my time in high school, one of the concepts we studied related to a phrase by Marshall McLuhan. He was a Canadian professor of English, philosopher of communication theory and a public intellectual. His work was highly influential as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries at that time. I remember him because of his statement, “The medium is the message.” This implied that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.
Sometimes in an attempt to achieve more global or international recognition, one gets it all wrong! The recent Qiaobi detergent commercial is an example of this. There has been a video that has recently gone “viral” and it has been met with much condemnation outside of China. In the video, a black man who has apparently just completed some paint work at an elegant looking house in China begins flirting with a Chinese female in the laundry area of the house. As he moves closer, as if about to kiss her. She shoves a detergent packet in his mouth and puts him into a top loading washing machine. At the completion of the wash cycle, she opens the machine and a handsome Chinese man emerges…
Therein lies the problem!
It seems that Chinese may have a different sense of humor from the rest of the world. Much consternation has been caused as a result of this advertisement. It is extremely narrow-minded in its concept and a direct plagiarism as well. It is also probably the worst commercial I have ever seen in quite some time!
It has thrust racism in China into the spotlight. Based on my observations, China is attempting to make their commercials more “inclusive,” but there doesn’t appear to be a clear-cut strategy. Generally, China has taken its cues from western society in this regard and there seems to be a bit of a time-lag in effect. I am confident that the perspective will be altered in the future.
There was a McDonald’s commercial that was distributed in China several years ago. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to see it. It depicts a black man and his Chinese female companion. Only recently are we starting to see similar types of genre in Western commercials.
From my point of view, racism does exist in China but it is different from that which I have experienced in America. It stems largely from the fact that that 1.4 billion people of China have been a fairly homogeneous society until recent years. If you were not Chinese, you were not considered a preference! Fortunately, views are evolving.
Today basketball has become a fairly popular sport in the nation. You can find former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal appearing Chinese beer commercials. Former New York Knick player Stephon Marbury has had a positive impact on the sport of Chinese basketball and I believe was recently offered a Chinese “Green Card,” recognizing him as a permanent resident! Sometimes the efforts of a few can have a magnified impact on the many…
There is a lesser probability of a black man’s life being threatened by an encounter with the police in China than in the U.S. The statistics are clear on this point.
I would say that the “racist regard” in China is more evident in older generations than younger. It is a function of what people have been exposed to that affects their perspective. Younger generations have been exposed more information about the world via the internet (however, WordPress, Youtube and Facebook are still banned…) and tend to be a little more open-minded, but they are still highly influenced by the views of their parents and other elders.
I think the detergent company responsible for the commercial is a little more mindful of other people’s sensitivities in light of western reactions to the advertisement. That is a good thing but the struggle continues.
When you engage people, you can alter their perspectives. I have shared bread and beverage with people who have never seen or met a black person before and we parted as friends. The personal example you set can have a more lasting and extensive impact on people’s views. This is one way to deal with stereotypical thinking.