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Chinese detergent accused of airing 'most racist ad ever'

Reporter: Han Peng 丨 CCTV.com

05-29-2016 04:54 BJT

A Chinese laundry detergent commercial has spurred outrage online, with many social media users accusing it of blatant racism. 

In a commercial for China’s Qiaobi laundry detergent, a Chinese woman shoves the product into a black worker’s mouth in the midst of their flirting, before suddenly pushing him into a washing machine. 

What outraged many international viewers online is that when she reopens the machine, a pale Asian man emerges instead, to the woman’s delight.

The advertisement has been airing in China since at least April. But it only began to cause a sensation last week, when it went viral on foreign social network sites.

BBC and CNN have slammed it as “blatant racism,” with many netizens, both Western and Chinese, saying they are “appalled” and cannot believe what they see.

We showed the ad to some passerbys on a Chinese street. Most instantly condemned it as racist. 

“This is too much. What if a foreign laundry ad washed off the skin color of an Asian guy and turned him white? That would be unacceptable to us. Many Chinese companies fail to understand the sensitivity of racism. It’s a shame, but it’s common in China,” said Zhao Yan, Beijing resident. 

But on reflection, some offered further comments. 

“I think it might because we don’t have much history of black people fighting against discrimination here in China. That’s why many people here lack the awareness of how sensitive this topic is. But of course that doesn’t mean that Chinese people are against the idea that everyone is equal and should be respected,” said Kong Zhe, Beijing resident.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that the commercial is almost a complete reproduction of an Italian detergent brand aired nine years ago.

It uses the same music and similar plot. The only difference is that the Italian product turns a white man black.

Infringing intellectual property rights is one thing to criticized, but some Chinese netizens also questioned why the skin color can only change one way.

In an interview with the BBC, Qiaobi’s director says he did not go over the content of the ad carefully enough, and admits he did not consider its racist undertones. But some advertisers say arousing controversy is just the company’s strategy for getting more exposure.

The Chinese law on advertisement bans dicriminative content based on race, ethnicity, religion and gender. But how this ad was approved by the authorities for broadcasting and how the watchdog will react remains to be seen.

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