Sensitivity must be shown to other cultures
Criticism of most popular CCTV show, which featured a sketch involving Chinese actress in blackface and fake buttocks, has done nothing for relations with Africa
China’s projection of power abroad has been variously characterised as soft, sharp and hard. A celebration of friendship between Africa and China on state television during the Lunar New Year no doubt falls into the “soft” category. But for a show that attracted as many as 800 million viewers, a segment has drawn sharp and hard criticism. Many found a comedy sketch featured in the CCTV New Year Gala offensive and racist by using a Chinese actress in blackface and giant fake buttocks, and an African performer playing a monkey.
That such a portrayal of Africans could cause offence seems to be a no-brainer, but foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang denied the show was racist and said China “has always opposed any form of racial discrimination”. He even accused critics of trying to “drive a wedge” between China and Africa.
If only Geng had shown the same sensitivity about the country’s most popular show as he had of criticism towards it.
He was right that China’s relationships with African nations have been long-standing and brought benefits to both sides. But that’s beside the point when it comes to the skit, which had a young black woman trying to convince her mother to let her move to China by getting a Chinese friend to pretend to be her fiancé.
The mother, played by actress Lou Naiming wearing blackface and a fake posterior, was thrilled to hear that her daughter planned to marry a Chinese man. The sketch ended with the mother discovering the ruse, but she said she could not be angry because China had done so much for Africa. She then shouted in Mandarin: “I love Chinese people! I love China!”
Instead of being apologetic, officials have been defensive. China has invested heavily across Africa, especially in infrastructure, and will host a summit with representatives of African nations later this year.
As an emerging world power, it must show greater sensitivity to other countries and cultures. CCTV should have apologised. It is a leading television station and its contents are rightly seen as representative of the official view. It must reflect China’s international stature.