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  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 11:40pm

General Motors

General Motors (GM) is a US carmaker that was the world’s biggest, although Toyota is challenging it for the title. It was hard hit by the global financial crisis, needing a government bailout, but emerged from chapter 11 reorganisation in 2009, and held an initial public offering in 2010. It returned to profit in 2011.


GM pulls 'racist' Chevrolet 'ching-ching, chop suey' ad

Carmaker scraps global promotional campaign for Chevrolet SUV after offensive lyrics that call China 'the land of Fu Manchu' draw complaints

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 11:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 May, 2013, 1:26am

Referring to China as "the land of Fu Manchu", where people say "ching-ching, chop suey", might have been considered acceptable, even amusing, when the lyrics were originally penned in the US in the 1930s.

But the distinction between modern norms and those of the swing era seemed to have been lost on General Motors' advertising executives, who featured the lyrics in a worldwide marketing campaign for its new Chevrolet Trax SUV.

The giant carmaker is now pulling the advertisement from worldwide markets, saying it had received complaints about the "offensive content".

The TV spot for the Trax, which had been running in Canada since early March and was posted to Chevrolet's European website, disappeared from Canadian television screens about a week ago, and was replaced with a new edit of the ad without lyrics.

China is a key market for GM, where it sold more than 2.8 million vehicles last year and where it has 55,000 employees.

In response to queries from the South China Morning Post, GM Canada communications director Faye Roberts said the advert "received some negative feedback regarding the lyrics in the commercial's soundtrack".

"Once the issue was called to our attention, GM immediately removed the offensive content from the commercial," she said by e-mail on Tuesday. "As the goal of advertising is to engage an audience and draw their attention to a featured product and it is never our intention to offend the audience, we made a decision to edit the advertisement."

Videos including the lyrics can no longer be found on websites devoted to any of Chevrolet's English-language markets. However, they were still visible yesterday on Chevrolet Europe's website and the Chevrolet Quebec YouTube channel, as well as elsewhere on the internet.

After receiving the Post's questions, Roberts said the ad would be removed from all Chevrolet sites worldwide. Chevrolet parent GM had previously made no public comment about the advertisement.

The retro-styled advertisement, titled "After Midnight", features the toe-tapping song Booty Swing by Austrian "electroswing" musician Parov Stelar. The lyrics go:

"Now, in the land of FuManchu,
The girls all now do the Suzie-Q,
Clap their hands in the centre of the floor
Saying 'ching-ching, chop suey, swing some more'"

Booty Swing is based on Oriental Swing, recorded by Lil Armstrong and her Swing Orchestra in 1938. That song's lyrics also refer to Arab sheikhs in their harems, and Japanese geisha girls who want to "swing it like Amelicans [sic]".

The incident comes at a sensitive time for Chevrolet, which is rolling out the Trax around the world this year after its launch at the 2012 Paris Motor Show. It is Chevrolet's first compact SUV.

Car websites reported last October that GM had applied for patents for the Trax in China, but Roberts said there were no plans to launch the Trax there.

The Trax hit roads in South Korea, where it is being manufactured, in February. It is arriving in Europe and Canada this spring, then Australia. It will not be sold in the US, where it would have competed with existing mid-sized GM models.

Before the original ad disappeared from Canadian screens, it had been released in multiple versions in Europe. The UK version muffled the "Fu Manchu" lyrics while the Italian version, for instance, did not. Roberts said that to her knowledge the offending version had not hit television screens outside Canada.

Roberts said: "As a company, we are reviewing our approval processes for advertising to ensure that it is appropriate for airing in multiple, global markets."

"Fu Manchu" is a stereotypical Chinese villain, the embodiment of the "yellow peril", who has been described as one of the most racist characters in literature and cinema. He was created by British author Sax Rohmer, who wrote a series of novels based on the depraved master criminal, beginning with 1913's The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu.

The 1932 film The Mask of Fu Manchu features the villain, played by Boris Karloff in slant-eyed "yellow face" make-up, telling his followers to "kill the white men and take their women". The character was played for laughs by Peter Sellers in 1980 in The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu.

The films are rarely screened on television because of concern about their racist content. But the Fu Manchu character has inspired similar Asian villains, including Ming the Merciless from the Flash Gordon comics, James Bond's nemesis Dr No, and The Mandarin of Marvel Comics.

GM's brands include Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Opel, as well as the Chinese badges Wuling, Jiefang and Baojun. It says it has been the leading global carmaker in China, by sales volume, for eight consecutive years.


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This article is now closed to comments

Everyone in the West is overly sensitive these days. They all need to do a year in china. They'll get over it...
I think the general public was being a bit overly-sensitive on this one..........maybe the lyrics and message was a bit on the borderline of ethnic boundaries and offensive to a few, certainly hard to say that there was any racial elements behind it.
I watched the commercial.
If SCMP did not point out that some racism was going to be shown, I would not have known what to look for.
This American "political correctness" is taken to the extreme.
Just a bit of reality here. It is amusing the invective being tossed about by people who refer to all white people with a racial epithet and think they are ok when doing it. Imagine if all white people referred to Chinese as "yellow peril" or in a similar vein. You'd be screaming, but yet you call them ghost people without a thought. It was a 1938 song which was improper for use in this day and age (and inappropriate then) but you continue to use your own epithets today. Just some pause to think before you get too far up on your high horse.
Calling the lyrics offensive is correct but racist? I don't see any mention of race or racial comments in the article or song.
Stop dreaming. Westerners always relate Chinese or Est Asians with "Fu Man Chu", Ching Chang Chung, Chop Suey, big front teeth and small Eyes. Have you seen the movie "Cloud Atlas" with Tom Hanks? Nothing have changed and will change. Westerners always will see themselves as the superior ones. That is why they make fun of other cultures and people.
The bizarre thing was that I believe the ad was trying to cash in on Asian chic and the Asian market, re: the appearance of some of the models/actors. It's unfortunate they chose this song; it could have worked with any other song from the same era. What a waste of money.
Dai Muff
Maybe now we can think about removing some of the racist commercials from HK TV, particularly the ones involving filipinas and Indians. And watch out for the racism in HK movies and sit-coms. And it is ironic that some people call Westerners "gwei lo" rather than the more polite "sai-yan" and yet would even be infuriated to be called "chinaman".
From my own experience, these whites from Michigan or us's mid section are racially insensitive and racists in their heart. They will always deny it and say it is not true, but just look at an ad like this from GM, one of the largest corporation in the world and from Michigan. How can something likes this slips through??? This shows they are absolutely clueless!!!!.
So in HK calling "black man tooth paste" is perfectly ok and not double standard....
Dai Muff
Sorry, but none of us accrue merit, blame, or right to be a prat because of what our ancestors went through or achieved. You get only the credit for what YOU do. I know it hurts some people to think this.
American cars suck. it's because of the thinking behind it...
Point proven once again
And it is ok to have a Louis Armstrong type black face on toothpaste and market heavily to Chinese and Thais that the whiter you are the more appealing you are. Where is the injustice there?
you mean compared to the TOLERANT mainlanders?
give me a break
people love being angry with their fake outrage
shut up you babies
1930s - China was torn apart by civil strife, foreign invasions and facing total ruin. Stuck in 19th century politics and bureaucracy, she and her people were ridiculed by the world over. Emigres and refugees to western countries face unspeakable circumstances, marred by hardships, institutionalized discrimination and the occasional massacre. Those who stayed saw their homeland divided by foreign powers. So negative was the press against the Chinese, that images of Chinese villains, effeminate males and dragon ladies persist till today. So yea, if the Chinese wants to use the word '****', their ancestors paid the price for it.
Healthily Cynical
that is a **** advert with or without that music!
I heard on our TV shows, movies, etc saying "black ghost", still nowadays and often, do we have double standard?
Dai Muff
You may or may not realise that toothpaste was originally called "Darkie".
I don't know what the problem is ALL commercial adds are DUMB, STUPID & OBNOXIOUS.
Agreed with you completely, that is why you do not see that many of these clunkers in the east and west coast. Only in the mid west where majority of the americans has never traveled outside of the usa. Did you know 80% of americans do not even have a passport?
america is a massive beautiful diverse country , with mountains to beaches
why do you need to leave? maybe to experience some third world s h i t hole and get robbed or filthy food
Not in the middle where the Big 3 is located!!!! Most west coast and east coast people consider the mid western mentality out of date as if it is a fourth world country!!!
Fine, if that makes them feel more civilized and better for all the deeds of their forefathers had done to the rest of the colored people. All these are just to protect themselves from others doing what they have done to others.
Dai Muff
And this justifies Chinese racism against Indians and Filipinas how exactly? I must be missing something here.
I see comments at below saying the general public is over reacting about "racist" remark and think it is okay to have this ad. playing in the air. I think those people are cold and ignorant. This ad. with such lyric is not okay to be broadcasted, neither you notice it or not. And if anyone refers a Chinese (or any Asian individual) as "Fu Manchu" is not a racist remark, then what is?
That is because most of the mid west american whites do not know what racist means. it is only a world to them.
Well...to be fair...they did change the English name to "Darlie"
Do you not see the irony in making the sweeping accusation that 'these whites from Michigan..." are all racist?
Dai Muff
Pot. Kettle. Black.
Ian Young,
You copied a very large portion from the Fu Manchu webpage on wikipedia to this article. You work for the SCMP! Imagine if a journalist in the NYTIMES did that? Somehow I am not surprised....
Thank you for your feedback. Yes our story did use information from Wikipedia, but we were able to verify the information from other sources as well, and it was NOT copied verbatim. We believe that falls within the bounds of fair use.
Which advertising agency was attempting to sell cars for the General in China ........ I wonder ??!!
Dai Muff
Big chip, small shoulders.
Reading your outburst of self-pity I can hear the violins playing in the background. "Making fun" is not something unique to any race or culture. Nor is racism. But hey, thanks for reminding us of your own narrow-mindedness.
The video player for the ad is broken ?
Ad heads are not as dumb as you think. They try to sell the car to self-hate bananas.
Are you really that dumb? Black Man Tooth Paste never had the same derogatory image among the Chinese as negroes in American movies. I never thought blacks were inferior when I used this brand of tooth paste in my Hong Kong boyhood.
Oh yeh, are you suggesting Chinamen in Zheng He's treasure ships pointing guns at black people's heads in West Africa, burning their village then chained and shackled them and transported them to Beijing, China and sold them as slaves?
BTW, what prompted the question? Are you another self-hate banana or supercilious expat?
Would it be offensive to call Sax Rohmer a ****?
It would be a bit pointless, he died 50 odd years ago.
No, they won't particularly from the usa, most of them live in bubble when they live overseas and claim they are now an expert!!!


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