China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang has stated that China “opposes racism in all its manifestations” after a blackface comedy skit aired nationwide during the annual Spring Festival Gala. The sketch was widely slammed for being racist.

The gala last Thursday commemorated the establishment of a new Chinese-funded railway between Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya in 2017 with a segment set in Africa.

racist cctv
Photo: CCTV screenshot.

But the skit featured an older Chinese actress in blackface, wearing enlarged buttocks, alongside actors dressed in monkey and giraffe costumes. It came under fire on social media for its racism and stereotypical representations of Africa. Blackface is a practice by which non-black actors darken their skin in order to mock the appearance and mannerisms of black people.

Asked whether China believed the skit was racist at a regular press conference on Thursday, Geng replied: “This does not seem like a diplomatic question. Do you honestly believe that it has reached the diplomatic level?”

geng shuang
Geng Shuang. File

When the reporter said that it involves “China’s image in the eyes of Africans,” Geng said he had read reports and comments on the issue in the media, “especially western media.”

“If someone is trying to make use of this issue to drive a wedge between China and Africa, I have to say that they are doomed to fail,” he said.

“China and Africa have forged an impregnable friendship after going through hardships hand-in-hand, and the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides has yielded substantial outcomes. As regards how China-Africa relations and cooperation have fared, no one knows better than the African countries and people,” he added.

In 2016, a Chinese detergent commercial showing a black man being stuffed into a washing machine and re-emerging as a light-skinned Asian sparked outraged online. In 2017, China’s official news agency Xinhua came under fire over a “racism” talk show segment demanding India “confess its seven sins.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.