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About the CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s ‘Racist’ Africa Comedy Sketch

A CCTV Gala segment emphasizing good Sino-African relations has drawn criticism for being racist.

Manya Koetse

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One of the skits performed during the 2018 CCTV Spring Gala has rubbed a great many people the wrong way for being racist and offensive. “Foreign media are going to explode,” one Weibo user wrote.

The annual Spring Festival Gala, produced and broadcasted by the state-run CCTV, has come to an end. The show, that draws some 700 million viewers every year, is central to the evening leading up to the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

Every year, there is bound to be an act that draws controversy, and this year was no different. The comedy sketch titled “Share the Same Joy and Happiness” (“同喜同乐”) struck the wrong note with many social media users, who deemed it ‘inappropriate’, ‘offensive’, and ‘racist.’

According to the official CCTV Gala Weibo account (@春晚), the skit was supposed to represent a scene in Kenya, where a Chinese host (played by Zheng Kai 郑恺), local people, and railway staff are celebrating the opening of the deluxe rail line between Nairobi and Mombasa, built by China.

As explained by SCMP, the scene opens with a performance by African dancers and then moves on to a conversation between the host and his African friend. She asks for his help to get out of a blind date arranged by her mother.

It is this ‘African mother’ that has caused consternation online. The role was played by the Chinese actress Lou Naiming (娄乃鸣), who was wearing a fruit basket on her head and was padded with a large bottom. She also arrived at the scene accompanied by an actor in a monkey costume.

The scene ends with Zheng Kai’s Chinese bride arriving, making it impossible for him to play his friend’s blind date anymore. The mother, as SCMP notes, then states she can’t be angry over the issue ‘because China has done so much for Africa.’ She says: “I love Chinese people! I love China!”

Image via Twitter user Kaisa Kantola (@kaisa_kantola)

Besides its Chinese actors, the skit was also performed by actors from Gabon, Kenya, and Ivory Coast.

Lou Naiming (1951), the woman wearing blackface, is a renowned actress, playwright and producer in the PRC.

The main idea of the comedy sketch fitted the narrative of the overall theme of the CCTV Gala, which stressed China’s (international) development and the One Belt, One Road initiative.

Although the segment was likely meant to emphasize good Sino-African relations, the performance seems to have backfired.

On Weibo, reactions to the performance were mixed. Although some people said they liked it, many also called it the most “awkward” segment of the night.

“I just think this is awkward, isn’t the Gala inspected thoroughly [before airing]?”, one person wondered. Other people also raised the topic of China’s strong censorship, asking why a performance such as this would have been accepted.

“I think it’s a bit racist (种族歧视),” another Weibo user said. “What do our African friends think of this?” others wondered.

“This is plain racism, the foreign media are going to explode,” another micro-blogger wrote.

While “awkward” was the key response to the skit on Weibo, “racism” was mostly mentioned on social media platforms Twitter and Reddit.

“OMFG anyone watching this racism right now in the gala?” was a topic that became top trending on the Reddit China page during the airing of the CCTV Gala (live blog of the Gala here).

But there were also other opinions on Wechat, where some Chinese commenters said that if it were not for the many Chinese lines the ‘mother’ role had, the CCTV Gala would have used an African actress to play this role – suggesting that it was more an issue of language practicality than racism.

The CCTV Gala controversy reminds of the 2016 Qiaobi commercial issue, when a Chinese washing powder ad drew much controversy outside of China for being “completely racist.” The commercial, that showed a black man being put in a laundry machine and coming out as Chinese, was later taken down by the company.

The Chinese Qiaobi commercial drew much controversy for being racist in 2016.

For the CCTV Gala, there is no way to ‘take down’ its controversial sketch. By now, more than 700 million people will have seen the event, which is the world’s biggest live televised show.

Some people on Weibo, however, are already placing bets that the controversial segment will not be included in the finalized online edition of the Gala.

We’ll keep you updated.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Cepted

    February 16, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    oh man chill the fuck down this is china not fucking us with their diverse shit

    • Avatar

      Harvey

      February 16, 2018 at 5:58 pm

      Shut the fuck up.

  2. Avatar

    Harvey

    February 16, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    Disgusting, racist. Do Africa a favor, China, and leave.

    • Avatar

      Wang Chu

      February 17, 2018 at 6:32 am

      Shut up, white American. This is our country, we don’t have your racist history. We never enslaved Africans, that’s your history not ours. We never mocked black people, that’s your history not ours. We never oppressed black people, your ancestors did and you do today. Go look in the mirror at your racist self and see how you keep blacks down on a daily basis without even realizing it.

  3. Avatar

    Fu Xi

    February 16, 2018 at 11:05 pm

    Wow… someone on the internet said that?!? I don’t think I will sleep tonight. This is China lady, no-one cares and no-one ever will care about your sensitivities.

    Media uproar, the journalist’s weapon of choice.

  4. Avatar

    Floored

    February 25, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Oh, I get it. As long as Africans appear in a skit, it’s racist. Wow. Just wow.

    Political correctness is killing modern society.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Another Gala, Another Controversy: 2021 Spring Festival Gala Draws Criticism for Gendered Jokes

Many felt the Gala’s comic sketches were insensitive to Chinese women and singles.

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The 2021 Spring Festival Gala was held on Thursday on the night of Chinese New Year’s Eve. The annual Spring Festival Gala, arranged and produced by the state broadcaster CCTV, is one of the world’s most-watched TV shows.

Although watching the Gala together with family members has become an annual tradition for Chinese families for several decades already, the show’s comic sketches and skits – often the highlights of the show – are becoming increasingly controversial and less popular in recent years.

In earlier decades, the xiaopin (comic sketch) was the best-received type of performance of the Gala for evoking laughter among the audiences. The various xiaopin shows are filled with puns, funny lines, and plot twists to entertain the viewers.1

Over recent years, these comic acts performed during the Spring Festival Gala have come to center more on social issues such as environmental protection, corruption, social morals, migrant workers, and family affairs – including those concerning love and marriage. Many of the performances in this year’s Gala followed a ‘happy beginning with sad endings’ plot, conveying more sophisticated messages and values that many viewers did not appreciate.

These seemingly changing undertones are also a reason why younger generations often say they prefer spending time online instead of watching the Gala. Some young people say they feel the Spring Festival Gala is losing the real “Spring Festival atmosphere” (“年味”).

By now, the Gala is increasingly known for triggering controversy online.

In 2015, the Gala was criticized for being misogynistic. One of the sketches titled “Goddesses and Tomboys” (“女神和女汉子”) marked a contrast between an ‘iron woman’ or ‘tomboy’ (女汉子) and a ‘goddess’ (女神) by depicting the first as a single chubby woman and the second as a succesful slim model, which critics deemed to be stereotypical and sexist. The same show also drew criticism for depicting ‘leftover women,’ unmarried women over 30, as unwanted and second-hand goods.

“女神和女汉子”

In 2017, another controversial sketch titled “Permanent True Love” (“真情永驻”) seemed to convey that women have an obligation to reproduce. The featuring female character voluntarily asked to divorce her husband after she had a miscarriage, out of consideration for his supposed right to offspring.

“Permanent True Love” (“真情永驻”).

In 2018, a comedy sketch titled “Share the Same Joy and Happiness” (“同喜同乐”), which included an actress wearing blackface, struck the wrong note with many social media users, who deemed it ‘inappropriate’, ‘offensive’, and ‘racist.’

This year, the Gala also was not without controversies. One sketch titled “Happiness towards Spring” (“开往春天的幸福”) was meant to emphasize the love between couples but drew criticism for the sexist jokes it contained. One of the male characters in the scene compared his ex-wife to an ugly villain when she does not wear make-up saying: “Have you seen her take off her makeup?No brows! Once we ate together face to face, and she held a pair of chopsticks, with the light flashing, and I thought she was Voldemort.”

Similar jokes and puns reappeared several times. Many viewers criticized the exaggerated banter over women transforming once their make-up is removed, with some commenting: “These lines are delivering a simple message that women with makeup are pretty, while women without makeup are invariably ugly and sloppy.”

Another skit titled “Urged to Get Married Every Holiday” (“每逢佳节被催婚”) attracted online attention as well for containing lines like “My daughter is already 28 yet still has no boyfriend” and for referring to unmarried people as “Single Dogs” (单身狗) – a term that initially appeared in 2011 as a buzzword filled with self-mockery before the term developed a strong negative connotation.

Bloggers and web users expressed that the use of these kinds of insensitive terms in the Gala made them feel uncomfortable, only adding to the anxiety and self-loathing they already feel in a time of major social pressure.

“I have been urged to get married countless times by my relatives these days already, do I still also have to be insulted in this skit, too?” some Weibo users said, with others wondering if there was “something wrong” with the director of the show for embarrassing unmarried people like this.

Still from “Urged to Marry Every Holiday” (每逢佳节被催婚).

Over recent years, there are more online discussions regarding the pressure faced by women to get married and how women (and their appearance) are portrayed in the media. There is a growing public awareness about gender discrimination and inequality, with campaigns on women’s rights also being highlighted by Chinese official media. The media’s stigmatization and stereotyping of women are topics that are now more often challenged and questioned on Chinese social media.

Although many female web users spoke out against the misrepresentation and distortion of female roles in the Gala, there were also commenters who advocated a more lighthearted approach, writing things such as: “Don’t overreact, these gendered jokes only serve a theatrical purpose.” Others argue that people are only looking for the negative messages in sketches that are meant to be positive, with one Weibo user wondering about all the controversy: “Are we even watching the same Gala?!”

The diverse discussions regarding the Gala and how it represents gender roles do not stand by themselves – they are a signal of a bigger movement questioning the representation of gender roles in Chinese popular culture. Since these discussions won’t die out any time soon, we can expect more of these controversies to surface again in the Galas to come.

Want to know more about the Gala? What’s on Weibo did a liveblog, check it out here.

By Vivian Wang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

References

1 Liu, Ji. 2010. “Ambivalent Laughter: Comic Sketches in CCTV’s Spring Festival Eve Gala.” Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese, 10(1), 103-12.

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

From Red Packet to Virtual Hongbao: Lucky Envelopes in China’s Digital Era

Raising virtual cows, shaking with phones – this is the Chinese New Year tradition of giving red envelopes in the digital era.

Things That Talk

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The custom of giving out red paper envelopes has evolved into a world of virtual lucky money and online games. This is the transformation of a Chinese New Year’s tradition, reported by Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

Ever wanted to raise a digital cow? This year, you can raise your own lucky cow (福牛) for Chinese New Year on Weibo. Through maintaining and raising their virtual cow (or ox), users can participate in this online game to win red envelopes, a well-known and beloved tradition linked to Chinese New Year.

The hashtag “Lucky Cow’s New Year’s Travelogue” (#福牛新春旅行记#) is linked to Weibo’s celebration of Chinese Spring Festival and the Year of the Ox. Users are expected to be active on Weibo daily to raise their cow/ox, similar to the once so popular Tamagotchi. Whilst leveling up their cow, users get the possibility to earn digital red envelopes.

The online game is another development in the story of the red envelopes, known in China as hongbao (红包). Often given during Chinese New Year, the envelopes can also be given at other joyous occasions like weddings. These red envelopes are given to each other by friends and family members to wish each other a happy new year and are always filled with an amount of money.

Red envelopes for sale via Taobao.

The practice of giving money during Chinese New Year goes far back in Chinese history. The earliest form of the red envelope is said to be yasuiqian (压祟钱). In order to keep evil spirits away, called sui (祟), people put money underneath children’s pillow since the evil spirits were said to be warded off by coins.1 These coins were woven together using a string.

Yasuiqian

As time went by and paper money and envelopes became more widespread, string and coins were replaced and the red envelope was created.

Red envelopes are used by Chinese all over the world nowadays. The amount of money inside depends on many factors. Recently, the tradition has left behind its tangible form and entered the digital era.

 

“Adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes”

 

In 2014, the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat (微信) launched a new function that allowed users to send virtual red envelopes. Users could send an amount of money directly to another user, or an amount of red envelopes could be sent into a groupchat. When the function launched, users worldwide could shake their phones in order to receive free red envelopes. The amount of money that was given to users surpassed 500 million yuan ($77.5 million).

WeChat’s inventive idea put digital red envelopes on the map in China. During the peak of the event, 800 million shakes were recorded per minute. There were two types of envelopes introduced in 2014 by Tencent, the company that owns WeChat:

1. A regular red envelope that could be sent directly from one user to another.
2. A ‘group’ red envelope, with a limited number to be grabbed and a limited sum of money which can be grabbed by all users in a group if they are fast enough. The sum inside this envelope is randomized, adding the thrill of gambling to the practice of giving away red envelopes.

Other companies also wanted a piece of the digital red envelope cake: Weibo and AliPay combined their strengths a year after WeChat introduced its digital hongbao in order to promote their version of the digital red envelope.

A ‘war’ then broke out between the two companies. AliPay handed out 600 million renminbi ($93 million) worth of red envelopes as a response to WeChat’s 120 million envelopes sent out during the televised celebration of Chinese New Year.2

 

“Digital red envelopes can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact”

 

In the years after, the digital red envelope became more and more popular. Weibo and Alipay also came with their version of sending red envelopes online. The companies organized large-scale actions to make users make use of their form of digital red envelopes.

WeChat, for instance, gives users the option to make the red envelopes very personal through adding stickers and personal messages, making the digital red envelope an even more enjoyable experience.

Does this new development of the traditional red envelope make the tangible envelope obsolete?

When asked by the digital newspaper The Paper (澎湃新闻) about whether the digital red envelope might replace its tangible brother, scholar Tian Zhaoyuan (田兆元) of East China Normal University said that the digital red envelope can cross time and place, but cannot replace the method of face-to-face contact. Though friends and family may send one another digital red envelopes, it does not mean that it replaces the tangible red envelopes.3

The tradition of sending red envelopes is and will be inherently linked to Chinese New Year. Though both the paper and digital forms of the tradition remain incredibly popular, the virtual hongbao will definitely win territory once more this year as travel is restricted due to COVID-19. Especially in these times, the digital red envelope is the best digital way of wishing family and friends a happy new year.

Why are ‘lucky envelopes’ not just red, but sometimes also green or purple? Read more via Things That Talk here.

 
By Koen van der Lijn and Xiaojun Zhang

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

Xiaojun Zhang (China Studies, BA) is an MA student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on contemporary Chinese culture, symbolism and food. For Things That Talk, she currently works on a project about Chinese-Indonesian restaurants in the Netherlands.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. Check out the story “Hongbao: from paper envelope to digital gift” on Things That Talk here!

 
Footnotes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Kin Wai Michael Siu. 2001. “Red Packet: a Traditional Object in the Modern World.” Journal of Popular Culture 35 (3), 103.
2 Chen, Liyan. 2015. “Red Envelope War: How Alibaba and Tencent Fight Over Chinese New Year.” Forbes, Feb 19 https://www.forbes.com/sites/liyanchen/2015/02/19/red-envelope-war-how-alibaba-and-tencent-fight-over-chinese-new-year/?sh=1b88bccccddd.
3 The Paper, Zuowei yi zhong “xinnian su”, weixin hongbao hui qudai zhizhi hongbao ma? 作为一种“新年俗”,微信红包会取代纸质红包吗?, https://cul.qq.com/a/20160208/012888.htm.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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