New migrants to China fight back against racism

New migrants to China say they are facing racial discrimination

Racist ad

The ad in question sparked negative reaction around the world. Source: YouTube

Increasing numbers of new migrants from Africa and the West are heading to China to make the most of the country's economic opportunities.

But many who arrive say they face racism and discrimination.  A television laundry detergent ad showing a black man who gets "washed clean" was condemned internationally. Numbers within China's black community are fighting prejudice any way they can.

A commercial for Chinese laundry detergent Qiaobi sparked outrage and controversy when it was published online this year. The ad showed a black man being fed a detergent capsule by a Chinese woman, only to be pushed into a washing machine and emerge moments later as a lighter skinned Asian man.


The ad was quickly condemned online, described as “jaw-droppingly racist” and the “most racist commercial of 2016.” Yet for the black community living in China, the reaction was less intense.

African American Ryan Brown has lived in Beijing for four years. He said his first reaction to the commercial was laughter. “It was just so ridiculous and absurd,” continuing, “but not anything I hadn’t seen before.”

Brown’s girlfriend of three years Jiehao Chen says her relatives largely “disapprove” of their relationship, with some writing comments saying “such a shame” whenever Chen posted photos of herself and Brown on social media.

“I asked very specifically out of curiosity, why can't I date black people? And my grandma said, 'because they're ugly.' There’s just no logical reason,” said Chen.

However, the couple stop short of calling their response ‘racist,’ putting the attitude down to ignorance and negative media stereotypes relating to crime and poverty.

“Their view of the world is narrowed to their experiences. They haven't had the same opportunities to learn English and learn more about what's beyond the small towns,” Chen said. Both openly discuss race with relatives and friends, hoping to change opinions one person at a time.

But ‘racist’ isn’t a word Beijing-based documentarian Nicole Bonnah is afraid to use. Her series ‘Black Orient’ explores the experiences of black communities across China.

She said though an increasing number of Africans have migrated to the country in recent years to take advantage of economic opportunities, attitudes remain behind the times and many continue to experience prejudice and discrimination.

“There's not a marrying between this economic relationship that's happening between China and Africa and the everyday experiences happening at grassroots levels for communities,” said Bonnah.

She was inspired to create the documentary after being forced to “confront her own blackness” when she arrived from Britain.

“Now everyday before I leave the house I think about how my skin colour will affect how people treat me. I shouldn’t have to do that,” she said.  

Although she feels attitudes toward the black community are improving, especially among younger generations, Bonnah believes the laundry detergent ad shows just how far China still has to go.

“To make claims that you can wash the blackness off a man is nothing than complete and utter ignorance and racism,” she said.

“It could take generations to get there, but as long we’re not afraid to keep discussing this issue and sharing stories, we’re making progress.”

3 min read
Published 15 August 2016 at 6:13pm
By Katrina Yu
Source: SBS