February 16, 2018 / 11:55 AM / a month ago

Blackface skit in China's new year gala sparks racism accusations

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A skit on China’s widely-watched Lunar New Year gala on state television featuring a Chinese actress made up to appear African has provoked accusations of racism online.

The actress, Lou Naiming, appeared on stage in colorful garb with her face and arms colored brown, carrying a fruit basket on her head, and accompanied by someone costumed as a monkey.

A black woman playing her daughter declares that she wants to study in China but is worried her mother will not agree.

Lou replies, “Why wouldn’t I agree? A Chinese volunteer medical team saved my life when I was young. Now Chinese kids are building a railroad for us...I love Chinese people. I love China!”

The internet lit up with criticism after the show aired on Thursday night, the eve of Lunar New Year.

“The racial discrimination was so clear,” wrote one microblogger, who goes by the name Chen Fei Tutu.

“Is this our nation propagating Chinese values? When white people discriminate against us, we are strongly dissatisfied, but now we are discriminating against Africans in such high profile. How shameful.”

Chinese actor Lou Naiming (C) performs a skit on a Lunar New Year gala in Beijing, China, February 15, 2018. Picture taken February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request on Friday from Reuters seeking comment on the racism allegations.

On its Weibo microblog, online information platform Tutopia said, “Imagine if it was a white person in blackface saying in an exaggerated accent, ‘I love America,’ and not being blasted by the whole world.”

Others declared the sketch, aired during the “CCTV Spring Festival Gala” that traditionally draws hundreds of millions of viewers, an embarrassment.

Chinese actor Lou Naiming (2-R) performs a skit on a Lunar New Year gala in Beijing, China, February 15, 2018. Picture taken February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The more than four-hour-long program of skits, music and dance has been a television staple since it was first broadcast in 1983. The highlight of this year’s show was a reunion duet by two of China’s most famous pop stars.

Public discussion of racial discrimination is unusual in China, which is dominated by the ethnic Han majority but is also home to dozens of minority groups as well as a growing influx of foreign residents, including Africans.

In 2016, a laundry detergent company in China apologized 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.

At the time, the Foreign Ministry called the sequence an isolated commercial that had prompted no diplomatic complaints, but added that China respected all countries, no matter their ethnicity or race, and was “good brothers” with African countries.

China has forged increasingly close ties with many African nations in its hunt to satisfy demand for commodities in its booming economy. Beijing has rejected accusations of neo-colonialism in Africa, saying its aid there has no strings attached and is widely welcomed.

Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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