From Lil Pump to Dolce & Gabbana: China’s thin-skinned netizens need to lighten up and stop taking themselves so seriously

  • Michael Chugani says huffing and puffing at every perceived slight only exposes their lack of self-confidence. Given that Chinese people themselves have been unapologetically peddling racist tropes, the double standard is grating
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 6:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2019, 7:15am

Lighten up, for goodness’ sake. Learn to laugh at yourself. That’s my advice to China’s army of netizens who get hysterical at every little thing they perceive as a slight against their race or country. Don’t they know it sends a global message that they have a chip on their shoulder? 

People who are self-confident know how to take things in their stride. Only those who lack confidence in themselves cry racism even when none was intended. I have lost count of the times mainlanders have demanded apologies for everything from TV advertisements to rap music.

Their latest outburst targeted American rapper Lil Pump who used the words “ching chong” while making a slant-eyed gesture in his new song Butterfly Doors. So what? Anyone who knows even a little about rap knows it thrives on insults, curses and racist words.

Lil Pump is ethnically Latino but frequently uses the “N” word in his songs, including in Butterfly Door, but African-Americans neither flew into a rage nor demanded an apology. They took no notice because that’s what rap is.

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Besides, how is Lil Pump’s slant-eyed gesture worse than the 2016 mainland laundry detergent ad that showed a black man being shoved into a washing machine by a pretty Chinese woman and emerging as a fair-skinned Chinese man? Or last year’s spring festival variety show on state-run China Central Television, which showed a Chinese actress in blackface and fake giant buttocks, a black man playing a monkey, and Africans with fruit baskets on their heads?

If mainland audiences thought the detergent ad and variety show were funny, why couldn’t they see the humour in the Dolce & Gabbana ad showing a Chinese woman eating pizza with chopsticks? They should have laughingly taken pride in the versatility of chopsticks. Instead, they went berserk and demanded an apology. D&G and Lil Pump have apologised. The mainland detergent company and CCTV haven’t.

What I do find funny is that Chinese rappers who hit back at Lil Pump included Chengdu hip-hop band Higher Brothers, which dissed Lil Pump while touring the US. Would Lil Pump be allowed the same freedom in China?

When CCTV aired its variety show making fun of Africans, I wrote here that if an American TV network showed white actors with slant eyes, mainland netizens would be outraged. The outcry over Lil Pump’s slant-eyed gesture has proved me right.

Exposing this double standard doesn’t make me a China-basher. On the contrary, my hope is that it helps mainland netizens understand they do their country’s image no good by using China’s new-found economic might to bludgeon everyone into apologising with boycott threats whenever they feel their sensitivities have been hurt, even if unintentionally.

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Rising superpowers are supposed to stand tall, be benign, and project a global leadership image instead of being feared as a bully. On a recent trip to Malaysia, the taxi driver who took me to the airport asked me where I was heading. When I replied Hong Kong, which is now a part of China, he said the whole world hates China.

His words startled and offended me. I am a naturalised American but Hong Kong-born and proud of it. What the taxi driver said made me think of other instances when I heard similar comments. The mainland’s thin-skinned netizens are partly to blame for this.

I recently watched reruns of the hit American TV comedy series Seinfeld. One episode showed the main characters in India where one agonisingly held it in rather than use the toilet or drink the water. It even showed an Indian family advising them not to go to India. The episode didn’t spark an Indian outcry.

Seinfeld makes fun of everyone from Jews and Pakistanis to fat people and the disabled. Audiences see the harmless humour in it. I suggest mainlanders watch this hit series. It may help them lighten up instead of taking everything so seriously.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host