China rejects racism charges over blackface sketch on TV gala

Actor wore prosthetic chest and was accompanied by a monkey character

Chinese actor Lou Naiming (centre) performs a sketch in the  New Year gala  on Chinese TV. Photograph: Reuters

Chinese actor Lou Naiming (centre) performs a sketch in the New Year gala on Chinese TV. Photograph: Reuters

 

China has rejected as “futile” racism accusations after a sketch on the wildly popular Chinese New Year TV gala featured an actor in blackface, causing an outcry on social media.

In the sketch, actor Lou Naiming appears on stage with face and arms coloured brown, sporting a prosthetic bottom and chest, carrying a fruit basket on her head, and accompanied by an actor dressed up as a monkey.

China has invested heavily in African countries, with numerous projects including a recently completed high-speed rail line in Kenya.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, rejected any charges of racism.

“Recently many media, especially western media, have reported on and commented on this matter . . . I want to say that if there are people who want to seize on an incident to exaggerate matters, and sow discord in China’s relations with African countries, this is a doomed, futile effort,” he said.

The Chinese New Year gala is watched by some 800 million people and is one of the most popular TV shows on Earth.

China’s population is dominated by Han Chinese, but there are also dozens of minority groups and foreigners are moving to live in China as the economy expands.

Regular complaints

Black people living in China regularly complain about racism and the sketch is the latest example of prejudice in a highly public platform. Last year an advertisement for a major washing powder featured a black man being “washed white” into a light-skinned Chinese man.

Last year, the country’s most popular social media messaging service, WeChat, was forced to apologise after its algorithm translated a neutral, commonly used phrase for “black foreigner” with the N-word.

And one of the most popular movies of last year, Wolf Warriors 2, which was about a Chinese mercenary saving Africans from evil westerners, featured numerous racist cliches.

This year, China will host African leaders for a once-every-three-years summit between China and Africa.