Last week a Chinese advertisement for laundry detergent, in which a young woman stuffs a black man into the washing machine to turn him into an attractive, pale-skinned Asian, went viral on the internet. Detractors from both inside and outside China widely described the ad as racist, and also noted how it blatantly copied an equally racist Italian ad released years earlier.
In response to the online backlash, Qiaobi, the company behind the advertisement, issued an apology over the weekend. On Sina Weibo, it posted a brief statement expressing regret for the ad (link in Chinese).
On 27 May 2016 on Sina Weibo, media outlets and internet users shared American media reports with the following information: “China’s Qiaobi advertisement is accused of ethnic discrimination, incites controversy on YouTube.” Later, we verified that the ad has been reported on or circulated by American media outlets including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and CNN; the UK’s BBC; France’s AFP, and other media outlets. It has attracted public attention in the US, the UK, and elsewhere. We’d like to express that we have properly managed this situation and would like to add the following:
- We have no intentions to discriminate against people of color… Ethnic discrimination is something we strongly reject and condemn.
- We express regret over the controversy the ad has created and do not intend to shirk responsibility. We have already stopped the ad’s circulation and have canceled several online streaming links. We hope that internet users and the media will cease sharing the video.
- The advertisement and the surrounding controversy have hurt people of African descent. We express our apologies, and also sincerely hope internet users and media won’t overanalyze the situation.
- Qiaobi is a domestic Chinese brand of cleaning products. We hope that domestic brands can continue to thrive and go global.
An overwhelming number of commenters on Sina Weibo expressed disappointment with Qiaobi, both for the commercial and for its apology. Many commenters were just as outraged by the ad’s racial bias as they were by its close similarities to an Italian ad released several years ago.
“It should be taken down. All in all, not only is it offensive, but the rest is a complete copy. It has really caused us Chinese to lose face,” wrote one commenter (link in Chinese).
Others are more sympathetic to Qiaobi, and argue that foreign media have imposed their own value system with their interpretations of the advertisement. “There’s no reason to apologize,” another commenter wrote. “Blacks aren’t part of the 56 minority groups in China, so how could it be considered offensive?”