Every Lunar New Year’s Eve, hundreds of millions of people across China gather around their televisions to watch the Spring Festive Gala on CCTV, the state broadcaster. In recent years people have criticized the show for its sexism: in the 2015 gala, for instance, a sketch depicted unmarried women over 30 as unwanted second-hand goods. And a sketch in the 2017 gala extolled the virtues of women who embrace “traditional roles.”
Today, many Chinese viewers are outraged about a different kind of discrimination in the form of a shockingly racist sketch. That skit, intended to showcase the Chinese government’s friendship with African countries and the “One Belt, One Road” development initiative, featured a Chinese actress in blackface with an exaggerated fake posterior and a basket of fruit on her head, saying things such as “China has done so much for Africa” and “I love Chinese people! I love China!” Accompanied her was an actor from Côte d’Ivoire dressed in a monkey costume.
“If you accidentally watched the Spring Festival Gala, please take an antidote,” someone posted on WeChat, the popular Chinese social media platform. “Indignant at one’s own race being discriminated against in white-dominated society while at the same time proudly discriminate against other races,” wrote feminist activist Zheng Churan. Censors quickly moved to erase the condemnations.
This is no aberrational slip-up by Chinese authorities. In October 2017, a charity exhibit organized by the Hubei provincial government, titled “This is Africa,” displayed side-by-side photographs of Africans and animals showing similar expressions, such as a boy and a chimpanzee, each with their mouths agape.
Last March, during China’s annual rubber-stamp congress in Beijing, a politician presented a proposal urging the government to “strictly control Africans” living in China, claiming they “engage in drug trafficking, harassment of women, and fighting” and “have a high rate of AIDS and the Ebola virus.”
In 2012, amid a crackdown on “illegal foreigners,” over 100 Africans in Guangzhou protested after an African man who was taken into a police station for questioning suddenly died in police custody. Some Africans living in the city described suffering discrimination and that the police seek out Africans to target.
China’s President Xi Jinping likes to talk about his vision for a new, just world order. It’s hard to see that happening when his own state media broadcasts a vision of racism – and then censors criticism of it.