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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

“Seriously China?” – China’s ‘Completely Racist’ Qiaobi Washing Powder Commercial

A Chinese ad campaign for washing detergent brand Qiaobi (俏比) that recently aired on TV and in cinemas is making its rounds on the internet, and is drawing much controversy for being “completely racist”.

Manya Koetse

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A Chinese ad campaign for washing detergent brand Qiaobi (俏比) that recently aired on TV and in cinemas is making its rounds on the internet and is drawing controversy for being “completely racist”.

A commercial by Chinese washing detergent brand Qiaobi is drawing controversy outside of China. In the 50-second-commercial, a young woman turns a black man into a Chinese man by washing him using Qiaobi laundry tablets.

The ad starts with a young Chinese woman who is just about to do her laundry when a black man, carrying painting supplies and stained with (white) paint, steps into the room and whistles at her.

blackman

He steps forward as she flirtatiously motions him to come to her. Just as he is about to kiss her, she puts a washing detergent tablet in his mouth and pushes him into the washing machine.

motions

She sits on the machine as he is being ‘washed’ while there’s a close-up of the detergent brand Qiaobi. When the laundry is done, she opens the machine. Instead of the black man, we now see a Chinese man coming out. The woman smiles.

result

The commercial ends with the slogan: “Change Begins With Qiaobi” (“改变从俏比开始”).

final

See video here:

The topic was covered by Shanghaiist and Vox on May 26 and made it to the number one topic on social media platform Reddit, where the original poster published a link to the commercial with the text: “Seriously China?”.

Although Shanghaiist writes the commercial is new, it was uploaded to Chinese video platform iQiyi earlier this year, suggesting it has been around for some time already. The commercial seemingly has caused no commotion in the PRC. The video itself only got two likes and received no comments on iQiyi. It was also not published on the official page of Qiaobi.

Vox called the commercial “jaw-droppingly racist“. Many Facebook users have responded to the ad with shock and disbelief, saying: “That is really the most racist ad I have ever seen.”

[rp4wp]

On Reddit, one netizen wonders: “Why are Chinese people racist against black people?”. One person answers it is because of “really bad reputation,” and:

“A lot of Chinese going to America would give advice to other Chinese to watch out for the black people since they were known to be thieves, criminals, etc. This keeps getting spoonfed back to China by the American Chinese and then you have this bias start to show.”

Another Reddit user named I am A Cloud writes:

“Poor experiences [with black people] have something to do with it, but also the mentality that lighter = purer/better/prettier/cleaner. In Beijing, you will notice almost all of the ads feature light-skinned Asians or white people. Most of their skin products are touted as lightening, and Chinese people avoid direct sunlight like the plague. To be fairer of skin is seen as being cleaner, more civilized, and more wealthy (because you don’t have to work outside or get dirty). So then you bring along a black person, and they are the opposite of that ENTIRE mentality. One of my friends (half black, half white) grew up in Shanghai, and was often called ugly by the other children. Her hair wasn’t silky like theirs, so they thought something must be wrong with it. Her skin was darker, so they assumed she was always dirty. Her nose was bigger, which is something they often see as ugly in both white people and black people alike. It’s very deeply built into the culture that lighter skin is civilized.”

The Shanghaiist‘s Christopher Ivan points out that the Qiaobi commercial format is copied from a series of Italian laundry detergent ads from about 9 years ago. In this commercial, a white guy is pushed into the laundry machine to come out as black, with the brand saying that “colored is better” (see video below).

Reddit user Hockeycannon has pointed out that a similar sort of commercial appeared as early as the 1940s. A Swedish detergent brand then also showed a white woman ‘washing’ a black man after which he is white.

But also before this period, there were ads in 19th century Europe using the same idea, such as this British Pears’ soap brand ad.

soap ad

China’s Qiaobi washing powder ad thus far has caused far more controversy on English (social) media than on China’s social media platforms. On Sina Weibo, there has been no mention of the ad at all yet.

The brand Qiaobi itself is also not popular online; it only has 45 followers on its empty Weibo account. Nevertheless, there are many Weibo users applauding the effectiveness of Qiaobi’s products. “It works really well in removing stains,” one Weibo user comments – apparently Qiaobi is better at making laundry detergent than it is at making commercials.

Update: this topic has now become a big topic on Chinese social media, too, see our video about this topic here. Also read our update to this story here.

– By Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Diandian GUO

    May 26, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    I think the racist reading of this ad departs completely from a western mentality, western referring to countries with history of slavery, colonization and other related activities. Discrimination against coloured people is a highly sensitive issue in some western societies exactly because of the historical relevance, because of self-reflection on past activities.
    However the discourse of race is not so much dominant in China, especially concerning people black skins, because historically Chinese interaction with African people are scarce. By the time China established amiable diplomatic relations with newly independent African countries in the 1960s, African people were depicted as a kind-hearted friend of Chinese people.
    As a Chinese saying goes: what is not in the speaker’s intention is in the hearer’s mind (说者无意听者有心). For Chinese, turning black skin into light one shows preference to the latter (which cannot be excluded from western influence and has not been existing forever). It does not mean that Chinese people are racist or tolerant of racism, but that the racist discourse does not register that sensitively, given that the society has no apparent motive to fight against racial discrimination.
    On the whole, the popularity of this video on English media is more a reflection of western mentality than a reaction to Chinese mentality.
    By the way, believing black is dirty is old fashioned, since people normally associate dark skin with the mud they got from field work. There is perhaps not so awful many black people in China for the general public to really get used to black as a natural skin colour, so they tend to explain from their own experiences. Discrimination from ignorance, I believe, is slightly different from intentional discrimination.

    • Avatar

      J

      May 27, 2016 at 2:41 am

      Most discrimination (if not all) is based on ignorance. It’s no excuse.

      Alternatively, how would you react if the ad depicted a white woman luring an Asian man into a washing machine for him to turn into a white man?

      • Avatar

        Qflux

        May 27, 2016 at 8:34 am

        People seemed fine with the white loser getting transformed into a black god. Cheered it on really. The *only* issue was ironically that they said “colored”. If they had skipped that and said “women don’t like pale pathetic little losers” instead of “women prefer coloured” it would have won awards (although fitting that tag line into a laundry context would be a trick)

    • Avatar

      Qflux

      May 27, 2016 at 8:38 am

      Chinese were discriminating based on skin tone while “white people” still lived in caves.

      Dark skin = works in sun = poor.

      Fair skin = always shaded = rich

      Sometimes it’s that easy, sorry. Although I know the reflex to blame “the West” for 150,000 years of human histories issues while simultaneously stripping credit for anything positive coming from “the West” because of all of that prior history is a well developed one.

    • Avatar

      Rebecca Webb

      May 28, 2016 at 3:51 am

      Diandian GUO,

      I absolutely agree with you!

  2. Avatar

    Ondra

    May 27, 2016 at 6:20 am

    The supposed commercial from Czechia is not a commercial – it’s a political satire reacting to increased xenophobic sentiments in mid-1990s. The brand is called “Arijec” (Aryan), resembling P&G’s Ariel brand.

  3. Avatar

    Qiu

    May 29, 2016 at 9:51 am

    What do you mean by “China’s” commercial. If Walmart makes a racist commercial would you label it as “America’s Completely Racist Commercial”??
    On one hand you are acting like a SJW and denouncing the commercial (which I agree is fucking racist.), but on the other hand you just generalized one fucked up company’s behavior to the entire country.

  4. Avatar

    Dan

    August 14, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Don’t worry white people the Chinese don’t like you either.

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse

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It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

 
Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun
 

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Zara Dress Goes Viral in China for Resemblance to Haidilao Apron

Who’s gonna buy this Zara dress in China? “I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Manya Koetse

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A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao.

“I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

The “original” vs the Zara dress.

The dress has become a popular topic on Xiaohongshu and other social media, where some images show the dress with the Haidilao logo photoshopped on it to emphasize the similarity.

One post on Xiaohongshu discussing the dress, with the caption “Curious about the inspiration behind Zara’s design,” garnered over 28,000 replies.

Haidilao, with its numerous restaurants across China, is renowned for its hospitality and exceptional customer service. Anyone who has ever dined at their restaurants is familiar with the Haidilao apron provided to diners for protecting their clothes from food or oil stains while enjoying hotpot.

These aprons are meant for use during the meal and should be returned to the staff afterward, rather than taken home.

The Haidilao apron.

However, many people who have dined at Haidilao may have encountered the following scenario: after indulging in drinks and hotpot, they realize they are still wearing a Haidilao apron upon leaving the restaurant. Consequently, many hotpot enthusiasts may have an ‘accidental’ Haidilao apron tucked away at home somewhere.

This only adds to the humor of the latest Zara dress looking like the apron. The similarity between the Zara dress and the Haidilao apron is actually so striking, that some people are afraid to be accused of being a thief if they would wear it.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “The most confusing item of this season from Zara has come out. It’s like a Zara x Haidilao collaboration apron… This… I can’t wear it: I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Funnily enough, the Haidilao apron similarity seems to have set off a trend of girls trying on the Zara dress and posting photos of themselves wearing it.

It’s doubtful that they’re actually purchasing the dress. Although some commenters say the dress is not bad, most people associate it too closely with the Haidilao brand: it just makes them hungry for hotpot.

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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