A new Chinese detergent commercial has shocked the world into another discussion on racism. The video shows a Chinese girl stuffing a black guy down a washing machine after feeding him the detergent, and out of the washing machine appears a fair-skinned young Chinese man. It is shocking for its blatant racism. And it also reflects the attitude in China toward people of other races. It is hard to swallow for those who grew up in a Western country where race is a sensitive topic, and we all have friends of different ethnic groups.
I am not terribly surprised that Qiaobi chose such a theme to advertise their insignificant detergent. There is nothing creative or amusing about dying somebody’s skin. The company is just appealing to the preferences of the Chinese society. For years, the Chinese have always placed great value on fair skin and Western facial features over the more traditional Chinese look (ie a button nose, a flat face and single eyelids). I have family members who were born darker and considered less physically attractive, but I have also heard that “skin enhancement” has turned one family member’s life around. Western women’s faces are the gold standard, and it is what gave rise to a profitable plastic surgery industry not just in China but elsewhere in Asia. My one other darker cousin received the benefit of the doubt because she was born with some desirable Western features like larger eyes with double eyelids, so she was considered the most beautiful in the family, although slightly darker.
The Chinese society’s obsession with the superficial is baffling. But as China strives to be a super power and possibly the world’s largest economy in the next few decades, its attitudes toward race and its treatment of others (their non-European and non-white partners) will be increasingly scrutinized. How they treat others will affect their standing in the world. The leakage of this video to the entire world was probably not intended by Qiaobi detergent, but Chinese companies all have international exposure. Yes, they have apologized but is the apology sincere? Will the international outcry change the company’s practices or attitude toward race, and for that matter, the attitude of other companies who have not been internationally humiliated yet? Eventually, how will the international response challenge how China sees the world? If there is one positive take-home message from this embarrassing detergent video, it is that it is time for China to re-examine its values and treatment of others who are “different”.