Published: Sun, February 18, 2018
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

China's largest Lunar New Year TV show marred by 'racist blackface'

China's largest Lunar New Year TV show marred by 'racist blackface'

The skit was aired on Thursday night on state television's Lunar New Year variety show and depicted the opening of a Chinese-built high-speed railway in Kenya.

The mother was played by renowned actress Lou Naiming in blackface with a basket of fruit on her head.

Using make-up to lampoon black people - a practice known as blackface - is seen by many as deeply offensive.

Parthepan tweeted: "The sketch on Africa during the @CCTV Spring Festival Gala (possibly the most watched show in the world) was cringeworthy at best, completely racist at worst".

But while it seems like China's soft-power project is still a work in progress, every country has its faux pas - as long as there are clueless people.

While the young woman is played by a black actor, her mother appears to be an Asian actor in blackface make-up, donning a traditional outfit complete with huge fake buttocks.

Still, even China's state-run tabloid Global Times has conceded interest in the often rambling program is waning: "The gala was previously regarded as a must-watch for many in China on the Eve of Chinese New Year, but has suffered from a decline of viewership and popularity in recent years", it said after the 2017 telecast.

With another actor made up as her daughter and drawing in the Chinese presenter on stage, the sketch of comic misunderstandings ends with Lou declaring to applause: "I love China!".

The annual Chinese Lunar New Year gala by CCTV is a four-hour event and is watched by some 700 million people each year.

It was meant to highlight the success of China's One Belt One Road policy that has seen numerous infrastructure programmes and Chinese investment in Africa surpass the USA and UK.

"After all, this is a sketch that was broadcast on the Lunar New Year gala".

According to the South China Morning Post, the skit was apparently meant to celebrate China's relationship with African countries.

Comments included "it's full of racism", that "it makes me feel like I'm living in the last century", and that "we are going to lose face internationally".

The notion of blackface being racist is linked to the history of minstrel shows in the U.S. and Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries where white actors would paint their skin black for condescending portrayals of black people. Now Chinese kids are building a railroad for us.I love Chinese people.

In 2016, a laundry detergent company in China apologised after running an advertisement in which a black man was stuffed headfirst into a washing machine only to emerge a moment later as a fair-skinned Asian man.

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