BEIJING, June 5 (Xinhua) -- A piece of detergent advertisement shown recently on TV in China's business hub Shanghai drew criticism of racism, but those familiar with China would view the matter from a different perspective.
Late last month, a Shanghai-based French photographer posted video of a commercial he had seen on local television. In the ad, a pretty Chinese woman responds to the flirtatious advances of an African house painter by popping a detergent pellet into his mouth and then shoving him into her washing machine.
After a few seconds, she lifts the lid with a smile to reveal that the black man has been transformed -- into the pale-skinned young Chinese man of her dreams. An anodyne tagline follows: "Change begins with Qiaobi (the brand name of the detergent product in the ad)."
Jeff Yang, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, quoted his friend Paula Madison, a former diversity officer of NBC Universal who had made regular visits to China since 2011, as saying: "Is the ad awful? Yes. But the most racist ad I've ever seen? Are you kidding? Not by a long stretch."
Madison noted that as a black woman with Chinese ancestry, she is very interested in how black people are treated in China.
Madison said the commercial is rather a questionable attempt at humor, rather than racism, given that most Chinese have no direct exposure to black people.
"I refer to it as 'shadeism' -- people in China think of dark skin as something associated with working in the fields, with being a poor peasant," she said, adding that it doesn't automatically produce negative associations.
In fact, a study jointly conducted by researchers at Washington State University and Towson University found that attitudes among high school students in China toward African-Americans were generally more positive than their stereotypes of Americans in general.
Nevertheless, those students who had extensive exposure to U.S.-based media were more likely to perceive African-Americans as "poorer," "less moral," "less polite" and "less intelligent" than other Americans.
The researchers ultimately concluded that the results "can be explained by how African-Americans are portrayed more negatively in American media."
"I've never personally experienced racism in China...," said Madison. "But I have experienced it in Hollywood without question. And I think that China generally sees black people through the realm of pop culture, whose arbiters continue to perpetuate the myth that people of color don't 'play well' in that market."
Wang pointed out that if Americans are aghast at a Chinese ad featuring literal whitewashing, they should consider that the figurative whitewashing performed by Hollywood is a big part of what made it possible.
"Which means that -- to contradict the ad's tagline -- change doesn't begin with Qiaobi, it begins at home," he said.