Increasing diversity, born out of boom, forces Chinese to confront old prejudices
Washington Post/Keith B. Richburg—As a mixed-race girl growing up in this most cosmopolitan of mainland Chinese cities, 20-year-old Lou Jing said she never experienced much discrimination — curiosity and questions, but never hostility.
So nothing prepared Lou, whose father is a African American, for the furor that erupted in late August when she beat out thousands of other young women on “Go! Oriental Angel,” a televised talent show. Angry Internet posters called her a “black chimpanzee” and worse. One called for all blacks in China to be deported.
As the country gets ready to welcome the first African American U.S. president, whose first official visit here starts Sunday, the Chinese are confronting their attitudes toward race, including some deeply held prejudices about black people. Many appeared stunned that Americans had elected a black man, and President Obama’s visit has underscored Chinese ambivalence about the growing numbers of blacks living here.
As China has expanded its economic ties with Africa — trade between them reached $107 billion last year — the number of Africans living here has exploded. Tens of thousands have flocked to the south, where they are putting down roots, establishing communities, marrying Chinese women and having children.
In the process, they are making tiny pockets of urban China more racially diverse — and forcing the Chinese to deal with issues of racial discrimination. In the southern city of Guangzhou, where residents refer to one downtown neighborhood as Chocolate City, local newspapers have been filled in recent months with stories detailing discrimination and alleging police harassment against the African community.
Lou sees similarities between her life and Obama’s: She also grew up without her father, whom she never knew. She read Obama’s autobiography and watched his campaign speeches on television. She learned how to chant “Yes, we can!” in English and calls Obama “my idol.”
Reading the withering online criticisms of her talent-show appearance, she recalled, she came across one post that asked: “Now that Obama is president, does that mean a new day for black people has arrived?”
“I think the answer is yes,” she said. “Some Chinese people’s perceptions of black people here have been transformed.”
‘Oriental Angel‘ Triggers China Race Row
theage.com.au—An instructor at Shanghai Drama Academy, where Lou studies broadcasting, put forward the mixed-race beauty and a handful of classmates to appear on the television talent show, without asking first.
She was selected for the top 30 nationwide, but was not among the 12 contestants chosen by judges for the next round.
Lou said she was not surprised by the judges’ decision, but was shocked by the thousands of web postings that followed, most of them negative and many of them expressing racist views.
“I couldn’t help crying. I felt hurt. I never meant to offend anyone,” she said.
Although Lou is still working towards her dream of being a television presenter, she said the episode had left her less optimistic about whether she can find a place on China’s airwaves.
“They want a TV host who is considered traditionally beautiful,” she said.
“Ever since I appeared on TV, I realized that maybe I don’t fit the image of a TV host. Many believe a TV host should have white skin, high nose and big eyes.”
Lou said she would follow Obama’s visit to China, listing the US president — himself of mixed-race descent — as one of her heroes alongside her mother and Oprah Winfrey, whose show she watches over the Internet.
She said Obama’s autobiography had inspired her, but added that she was unconvinced she could change people’s minds about race.
“He convinced people that he has the capacity to change what people thought of African-Americans. Compared to him, I don’t have that capacity for change because the Chinese media is too powerful,” she said.
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