China New Year gala show sparks new racism controversy with blackface performance

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s state broadcaster has come under fire once more for a performance featuring dancers made up to look African during its annual gala show to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

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During CCTV’s four-hour show which typically draws hundreds of millions of viewers, performers appeared on stage wearing outfits that approximated African clothing and had darkened their skin with make-up.

“The New Year Gala director team is just stupid and vicious,” said one of a number of users who took to Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, to criticise the skit.

“Is there any difference between Chinese people doing blackface and white people slanting their eyes to make fun of Asians?”

China’s foreign ministry said the integration of cultural elements from other countries into Chinese shows was a sign of respect and the inclusion of the African segment was not a diplomatic issue.

“If anyone wants to seize on the CCTV Spring Festival Gala programme to make a fuss, or even sow discord in relations between China and African countries, they obviously have ulterior motives,” it said in a statement to Reuters.

The gala sparked similar controversy in 2018 over a skit featuring actress Lou Naiming. She appeared on stage in colourful garb, her face and arms coloured brown, carrying a fruit basket on her head and accompanied by someone costumed as a monkey. (

Organisations and advocates for Africans in China also lambasted the show, which aired Thursday evening.

“While supporters of the practice allege that blackface centres on empathy & realism, it’s difficult to disassociate it from a long history of minstrelsy & fixation on problematic caricatures,” Black China Caucus, an activist group, said on Twitter.

“Next year, we hope organizers decide to end this practice & hire some of thousands of Black people living in many parts of China.”

A representative for CCTV could not be reached for comment on Friday, a public holiday.

The show, which this year celebrated Chinese medical workers and the country’s space programme, has been a television staple since it was first broadcast in 1983.

Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Tom Daly and Se Young Lee; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Mark Heinrich