CCTV should apologise for its blackface skit so China can show the world that it, too, knows how to say sorry

Michael Chugani says China demands apologies from others yet never apologises. It should start, as there’s no better way to showcase its rising power than to show it knows it is not always right

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2018, 3:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 February, 2018, 7:12pm

In America, excited audiences are packing cinemas to watch a black superhero in the film Black Panther, which depicts a fictional African country as the world’s most technologically advanced. In China, state-run China Central Television belittled blacks in its annual Spring Festival Gala variety show featuring a Chinese actress in blackface and fake giant buttocks and a black performer playing a monkey.

CCTV’s racist skit aired on the same day Black Panther broke records on its opening day in the United States. One mocked Africans as backward with fruit baskets on their heads, the other celebrated blackness in a hit film with an all-black cast and a black director.

Imagine if a major American TV network aired a show featuring white actors with painted yellow skin, slant eyes and a stereotype Chinese accent. You can bet there would be deafening outrage from the mainland’s army of netizens demanding an apology.

Blackface skit on TV gala a sign that rising China needs to combat racial and ethnic stereotyping

But CCTV’s skit produced no outrage from mainland netizens. Maybe they laughed themselves so hoarse from the racist segment that they lost their voice. More likely, it’s a simple case of hypocrisy. Censors blocked the posts of the few mainlanders who dared to call out CCTV.

Imagine if the Indian government had released a video mocking Chinese with pigtails

China’s state media produced a similarly racist video during last year’s Doklam border stand-off with India, showing a Chinese actor with a fake beard and Sikh turban and speaking in a mock Indian accent. Again, imagine if the Indian government had released a video mocking Chinese with pigtails and pronouncing fried rice as “flied lice”. Mainland netizens would have responded with fury.

Africans, African-Americans and Indians shrugged off the state media’s racist pokes. They didn’t demand an apology. Maybe they know how to take things in their stride and don’t have a chip on their shoulder. In any case, China never apologises but demands apologies. Delta, Marriott International, Zara and Mercedes-Benz all had to kowtow for unintentionally offending Chinese sensitivities.

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Let me be clear: I am no China basher. Far from it. Many have labelled me as pro-establishment and a Beijing bootlicker. But when something is wrong, it is only right to speak up, whether it’s China, the US, or whatever. CCTV’s poor attempt at comedy was clearly offensive. It should stand tall by admitting it lacked judgment.

But when something is wrong, it is only right to speak up, whether it’s China or the US

China has a record of extracting apologies. What better way to showcase its rising power than to tell the world it, too, knows how to apologise?

Before people start howling that the US is also racist, I’ll admit the country is beset with racial issues. But at least it tries to confront its history of racism. It is not in denial like Hong Kong and the mainland.

That’s why, as an Asian myself, it peeves me whenever Asians and Asian-Americans rail at Hollywood for being racist in bypassing Asian performers or casting them in stereotype roles. Yes, America’s entertainment industry is overwhelmingly white but at least it’s trying to change. Disney has picked Chinese actress Liu Yifei to play the lead role in the move Mulan. Kung fu actor Jackie Chan, directors John Woo and Ang Lee, British actor Dev Patel and Indian actress Priyanka Chopra from the TV series Quantico have all made a mark in the US. Name one mainland film where a foreigner played the lead role.

China’s rise is unstoppable and inevitable. It has worked miracles in rapidly improving the lives of millions. That was the easier part. The harder part is deciding if it wants to be a benign superpower or a belligerent one that bullies its smaller neighbours.

The world fears America’s might, is unsettled by its current unpredictable president, but is calmed by its democracy. If authoritarian-ruled China wants to be respected as a superpower, it needs to reassure the world its might doesn’t mean it is always right.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host