Snapshots of the Chinese detergent ad that sparked racial controversy throughout the world. (Courtesy Photo)
Outcries of racism and bigotry were voiced internationally against television advertisements for Qiaobi, a Chinese cleaning liquid. Even though the ads are dubbed as the most racist by viewers abroad, the company nonetheless defended the ads, saying any discrimination was in the eye of the viewer.
The ad, which drew international outrage after being uploaded to the internet on May 26, shows a Black man walking into the home of an Asian woman who is in the midst of doing her laundry. He is disheveled and looks as if he has been working with paints. As he walks towards her, she grabs a pouch of Qiaobi cleaning liquid and forces it into the man’s mouth, before she pushes him over and tumbles him into the washing machine. After a cycle of muffled screams, she opens the lid and a grinning Asian man climbs out. He winks at the viewer before the slogan flashes up on screen: “Change begins with Qiaobi.”
The commercial had apparently aired for months without generating much debate, until a flicker of online discontent was picked up by an English website. It posted a link to the ad and within hours, it had gone viral, sparking a global conversation about racism in a country that is officially home to 56 ethnic minorities but is dominated by Han Chinese, and can feel very mono-cultural, according to a press release that addresses the situation.
“We did this for some sensational effect,” Xu Chunyan, an agent for the Qiaobi company, told the New York Times. “If we just show laundry like all the other advertisements, ours will not stand out.”
However, Morgan State University advertising major Jonas Dandy disagrees. “Shoving detergent in a Black man’s mouth, forcing him into a washing machine, and having him turn into an Asian man is in no way innovative; it is racist,” he told the AFRO. “In addition to being culturally insensitive, globally it hits a nerve because it suggests that Black men are somehow primitive and need to be changed in order to be acceptable.”
And while Dandy’s sentiments were shared by millions of people worldwide through social media posts and protests, a small contingency of viewers found the ad comical and a means to open dialogue about race. “The content will definitely make some people of color feel as though they are the butt of a joke or that they are being told that their skin needs to be changed. The reality is that different cultures view things differently and often without malicious intent,” television critic and blogger Torcy Beauchamps told the AFRO. “There is an Italian commercial from which this one is derived that puts this exhibition into context. When that is viewed next to this one, it all comes up laughter.”
In the Italian version, a comely, puny white male comes to the doorway in much of the same manner, is forced into the wash with a packet of detergent and comes out as a muscular, handsome Black man. Because this product is for coloring clothes rather than bleaching them, the slogan at the end reads: “Coloured is better.”
“The truth of the matter is that the world is not ready – even in 2016 – to deal with race as true satire because it dredges up too many hurt feelings and stereotypes,” said Beauchamps, who acknowledges China’s long history of racist ads, including Darkie toothpaste, which was only renamed Darlie in 1989 by the American company Colgate-Palmolive, which owns it. “I thought the commercials were great for opening up dialogue about race, but it has to be a conversation built on learning, rather than accusations. We’re just not there yet.”