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Talent show contestant sparks Chinese race row

December 21st, 2009
01:52 PM ET

Just as one talent show debate comes to an end so another rumbles on in China. The themes couldn’t be further apart. [cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/12/21/jing.art.jpg caption ="Lou Jing has focused the attentions of Chinese people on their attitudes to race. "]

While everyone in the UK has been consumed by the race to the Christmas number-one slot, the Chinese have been embroiled in a controversy over race itself.

Lou Jing, a contestant on an “American Idol”-style show, “Let’s Go! Oriental Angel”, has been subjected to a merry-go-round of opinion centered on the color of her skin – her father, whom she has never met, is of African-American descent.

Far from being judged for the quality of her voice, the 20-year-old had to contend with a barrage of criticism about her appearance posted on blogs and discussion forums. “Never should have been born” some posts suggested. Others told her to “get out of China.”

Understandably, she was extremely upset by the reaction her appearance on TV triggered.

“I am Chinese," Lou told AFP recently. "But when I read the comments, I started to question myself. I never questioned myself before. This time I started to think about how I am different from others.”

The outpouring of vitriol has sparked a heated debate in a nation where more than 90 percent of the population is of Han Chinese descent.

The girl affectionately referred to by the talent show’s presenters as the “chocolate girl” and the “black pearl” was eventually voted off before the finals.

But Lou refuses to be cowed by the criticisms of her race and hopes one day to become a diplomat, “to bring people together” she says.

With the Chinese economy increasingly reaching out to new markets all around the world including Africa, China is, perhaps, inviting a greater racial and cultural diversity than at any time in its history.

What are your thoughts on Chinese attitudes to race? Do the experiences of Lou Jing show that China is a racist nation? Or are the Chinese more tolerant of cultural diversity than this episode suggests? What have been your experiences of visiting China?

We would like to hear from you. Post your comments below.

Filed under:  General
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Edward

    China is a racist nation. This time it's no different. What few know, is that the Chinese government leads the race in Africa regarding their foreign investments (mostly through corruption), which they in return suck recipient nations dry of their resources. All one has to do is read the stats for confirmation.

    December 21, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  2. Paul Cooper

    That there are some people in China with seriously racist views is unquestionable. That this means that China is a racist nation is less obvious. But the country does have a long history of xenophobia, which can easily translate into a racist stance.

    December 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  3. john

    It's the same in all Asian countries. Tiger Woods mother is Thai, but she refuses to go to the country because of the way she was treated for having a black son. Asians are particularly racist against black people. Just ask any black person trying to catch a taxi in China or Thailand and you'll know the answer.

    December 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  4. Peter

    hardly, the US was very racist at its birth as a new immigrant country, going thru decades before those conflicts were resolved..first at a legal level then gradually at a more social level. China is a very homogenous country, the only difference being its dialects..other races are much more common in the cosmopolitan cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai..if u take the country at large..there's not much racial diversity.

    On an apples to apples basis to where America was in its history..china is not any more racist. Of course, i expect the speed to which racial diversity becomes the norm to be much much quicker..thanks to new technologies and the global govt..mb offset by govt censoring practices

    December 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  5. Milton Wiah

    As we debate this topic, there are many people in China who
    never saw a black person before, let alone having a relation with one.
    This should give us the idea that many of the comments in
    the media China should not be attributed only to racism.
    Ignorance is very different from racism. So many people who
    reacted that way could have not known that we see them to
    be rasists, and rightfully so they are not. Simply they are ignorant
    of the fact we live in the diversed world, and it is possible that
    one day a minister in the chinese government will be a black person.

    December 21, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  6. Peter

    'global govt' should have read 'global economy'

    December 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  7. Baoluo

    China is no more racist than any other country! Many Africans and other foreigners happily live and work in China as well as attend university. The internet is not a scientific sampling of the general population, so I would not consider it a measure of racism. Those with the most anti-social opinions like to use the internet to spread their hate filled messages. I have traveled in and lived in China for almost 10 years and never once witnessed racist hostility here.

    December 21, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  8. Le

    This is quite sad. You would think in this day and age, racism would have been eradicated but no, it is still going strong. It's everywhere and I doubt it'll disappear anytime soon. I can't say that the Chinese attitude is based on everyone in China; there are probably many who support her and I don't believe this report shows it. But as for Lou Jing, I say go for it. I hope she reaches far and teaches people that race is not all about a person.

    December 21, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  9. TSH

    It's unfortunate, but lets face it racism is still very much alive in all parts of the world. Europe, Asia, the Americas.

    December 21, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  10. kalli

    Racism is an attitude of superiority. Let it be known to those not familiar with the Chinese Culture, that many Chinese people believe that their culture is the mother of all cultures, for one thing their culture has been evolving for thousands of years. And now they are eating our lunch, transforming western technology into their own, and in particular we stupid Americans still send them money because they are a "developing" nation. One day, if we are lucky they will buy our wheat and corn because there will be nothing worthwhile left to produce in this country. When this time comes, we will be even more racist toward the Chinese than we were in the 18th century. So, racism is really an attribute of the insecure and ignorant.

    December 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  11. Enrico d'Exelito

    This is sad – but unfortunately – the reality. People in East Asia often hold strong racial views, complete with a "ranking" of races and etnicities. For instance, Chinese often envy the Japanese for their perceived finer facial traits but not the somewhat darker peoples of South Asian countries. The Japanese consider themselves at the top in this perceived racial ranking (never ask a Japanese if he is Chinese!). Of course all this would only be funny, were it not that people become the victim of this behavior. And unfortunately, racism is not something peculiar only to one region in the world.

    December 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  12. A. Smith, Oregon

    Its a sad reflection of what the Republican party calls its 'purity' test.

    Early into then Senator Obama's campaign's many celebrated blacks across America publicly stated they weren't sure if Obama was 'black enough' for them to cast their vote on.

    Tiger Woods was roundly criticized for his skin color in the formally all white PGA country clubs and one well know golfer quipped, do you live on fried chicken?

    Lou Jing seems like a delightful woman and a real honor for China to present her abundant talents to the world.

    December 21, 2009 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  13. mei

    This article did not tell the truth

    This girl was critisized for attending the tanlent show because she is an illegitimate child. She and her mother is not supposed to keep high profile in the TV show.

    Her mother's cheating on marriage is the key issue, not her skin color.

    December 21, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  14. K.Ho

    Education! Education! Just look at Singapore! Its not politic, its from their education that brings more understanding and acceptance to race. China will take another generation to get there, when older generation is in the history books.

    December 21, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  15. Ching Cheng Chang

    The Chinese must also get the hell out of Africa, which they are taking over in large droves! Hey, should we call it tit-for-tat? Now, just how does that sound in the 21st century? Chinese are the ones who need other peoples than the reverse case. After all, there are too many Chinese ... in proportion to their country's landmass, or aren't there?! Perhaps that's why they want some of their own out!

    December 21, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  16. Christoph

    mei, whether Lou Jing was criticized because of her race, or because she's the product of an affair of her mother, doesn't really matter. It's not her fault to be half black, and it's not her fault what her mother did either. She's a gifted girl with great talent, and that's why she actually should show high profile on TV.

    December 21, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  17. Mike

    Edward: if you putted it this way then all nations in the world are racist simply because there are racist people in every nation. As for this particular case: China and most Asian countries are very homogeneous, this is a fact. Just look at Korea and Japan who's economies are mature and are "advanced" nations, even so the amount of foreigners there are far less when compared to the western world where every city is a melting pot of cultures and people.Racism is very much alive in every part of the world and stems from insecurity and arrogance. We humans have always divided ourselves into classes and such, slaves & masters, middle class &elite and don't forget the catch all "poor people".

    December 21, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  18. Big Daddy Rat

    It's a sad commentary on "civilized" humanity when we pay so much attention and spit so much vitriole at people for there differences, as if our differences define our shortcomings when in reality it's our differences that give us the diversity of thought and action that provides us with our greatest strength.
    Unfortunately for Lou Jing her life will never be the same now.

    December 21, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  19. from Germany

    mei –> from which planet do you come? We live in the 21st century. Why should the child be blamed for what the mother did? Apart from the fact that calling a child "illegitimate" is not realy a sign og high intelligence. Every child is legitimate because it is a individual person.

    December 21, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  20. Julian

    the above ladies and gentlemen seeing China as a racist nation, please read your comments repeatedly, what can you smell in your words?

    Please try to get the truth and conclude from it, a report with obvious implication is not enough.

    Do you know how the 56 distinct nations live together in the long history of China? Do you know how open the Chinese people are to foreign friends? One of my friends who visited China last year told me he felt to be welcome as a King, he's very appreciate for his friend's kindness.

    I also heard some western people asked me very weird questions about China's culture and history, for instance, ' Do you still eat babies now in China?', 'Do you eat everything with legs besides tables?' and all of them got that kind of information from their "justice" media.

    Come on, be a smart reader or audience!
    It's a global time, residents of the planet need good communication and understanding!
    It's also a commercial time, media have become super econimic animals, they don't always tell as what they should tell, unfortunately, they always tell what you want to hear and debate. A world filled with conflicts always makes the media excited and the reporters full of hormones, but lack of impersonal judgement.

    December 21, 2009 at 7:05 pm | Reply
  21. cb

    i lived in se asia for a few years and wherever i travelled i was always shocked by how much racism there is there, not just against obvious differences like skin color, but also within the differnet types of asian people (ie japanese don't like koreans,koreans don't like chinese or japanese chinese don't like anyone) also was told numerous times not to 'settle down' there as they wouldn't want white blood mixed in with their nationality.shocking. and yes everywhere i went they all disliked african or african american people regarldess of whether or not they'd ever actually seen or interacted with anyone with darker skin. i think china is a very corrupt nation spiritually morally and my hope is that people recognize this and do something about it before its too late because as long as we measure the greatness of a nation solely by their economic status we are enabling blatant racism and other human rights atrocities. im sure their economic power is taking over the world lets just hope their crappy opinions regarding anything and anyone different do not survive and rule our world as well because it won't be a safe world.the chinese are the nazis of the new world.

    December 21, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Reply
  22. Ken

    I visited China last year during the Olympics and again this year, each time I stayed three weeks. I stayed in Hong Kong for a few days, but most of the time I was in Shenzhen and Xian in central China.
    I did not experience any discrimination while I was in China, the Chinese people were very friendly and treated me very nice, and I had no problem getting a cab at anytime of the day or night.
    One Chinese woman invited me to take a picture with her 5 year old son. As a black man I felt a little conscious at first, because as I walk down the street many, many people would turn and stare at me as I walked by, but I realize it was because they were not use to seeing a black person walking in their neighborhood. But I soon realize they would stare just as much at a White man. They only time I felt any discrimination was when I was on my way back home, I was on a Taiwanese airplane " EVA" I was taken out of my assigned seat placed in a separate seat separated from the other passengers.
    I felt more discrimmination in America each than I did in the few days in China....Kennygh

    December 21, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Reply
  23. part chinese

    yeah, unfortunately it's reality... it's not really racism, it's more of xenophobia. chinese as a people and culture are xenophobic. i am part chinese, yet i am treated differently because i'm not "pure". it's not that they mistreat you very badly, but rather they treat you differently. a friend told me once that he fell in love with a half-chinese and considered proposing to her, but his friends told him "are you sure? she's a half-breed you know...", they tolerated her as a girlfriend, but not as a wife...

    December 21, 2009 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  24. Annie

    Lou Jing is being told to "get out of China", the country of her birth? Come on China – emancipate yourself from mental slavery. I can't say China is the most racist place on earth. In my view, lots of other places perhaps top the list. I also think that there may be many Chinese who have not, and would not display such vitriol towards Lou Jing. We black people are always on the receiving end because of people's insecurity, arrogance and hate. I am of black, Caribbean descent, with a great grandmother on my father's side from Hong Kong, and I am sure if I visited China, they would probably treat me the same way. That's why I have never even considered going there.

    To poster Mei, I pity you. And to China, I say get out of Africa, if you hate black people. This kind of exposure is actually great for Lou Jing. Now the world will get a chance to know her and see her talent. I hope she gets a contract in some other country and we will see who has the last laugh.

    Go Lou Jing, Go.

    December 21, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  25. Jefe

    I have read over the comments here and respect all the opinions.

    However, it seems that most are missing the point (or am I missing the point)?

    This girl is Chinese. She is ethnically Han Chinese. She is not another nationality, nor a member of one of China's recognized minority groups. It is rather irrelevant that China welcomes people from Africa to live, work or study there. It also is not very relevant that China has exhibited some measure of tolerance to its recognized ethnic minorities. Those remarks do not apply to this case.

    It appears that she was simply rejected from assuming her actual Han ethnicity because many people vociferously stated that she is too dark or has too much of what is perceived to be African features to be accepted as Han Chinese. For those who tell her to leave the country, CHINA is her country for Pete's sake. Apparently too many Chinese seem not to have a very clear understanding of what it means to be Chinese, or they would not be so quick to exclude one of their own.

    Chinese has always been a multi-racial, multi-ethnic country, and each ethnic group is also quite mixed up whether individual members choose to recognize it or not. The net police should root these rogue waves from permeating the society as much as they do anyone else who do things not in the country's best interests.

    December 21, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  26. part view

    I think this is not called "racism". As far as I know, the girl's singing is really too common, sometimes, it is a bit................
    This is really very common debate. In fact, you can see other more harsh commends for some other show stars who are common chinese. Different commends on web are usual. I guess if you read unified commends on web. Someone would argue this is communism, it is not democratic.
    In case she won the prize, others failed. So maybe the fans of others might criticize and use harsh words to argue.
    NO Racism in China, at least, not so obvious as reported. several years ago, a Tibeten guy won the first prize when he contested in a show TV program. He was quite popular at that time. So this is a good example to prove no racism.

    December 21, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  27. dmac

    I am a Caucasian who lived in China many years and married a Chinese lady. In my view there is much racism in China but also much, prejudice, jealousy and ignorance. The same as there is in many other societies the United States society in particular. In China one often deals with these human foibles on a sometimes more basic scale compare to the hate mongering typical of the U.S. as in 'her skin is darker than it should be if she is going to get the job' Often skin color is associated with your station in life. The darker your skin the more associated you are with working outside, manual labor, etc. The mind-set is that as it should be everyone’s goal to have an easy life then you must live your live that way in every aspect and letting yourself have dark skin basically means you have been out in the sun too long. One should understand that this is a society where many men allow one pinky fingernail to grow excessively long. The reason for the long fingernail is that it indicates the owner does not do physical labor as if he did then he could not grow a long fingernail, it would break.

    Yes the prejudices towards individuals of African heritage are more pronounced. There is a long history of Chinese educational aid delivered to African countries where the students come to China to study. However, after they complete the studies many of these students do not return to their home country but stay in China and participate in the ‘grey’ areas of business especially in Beijing Shanghai and the Pearl River area. This issue is widely disseminated knowledge in China and many Chinese people do not like that their goodwill is abused in such a manner.

    December 21, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Reply
  28. from canada

    Many people avoid all products made by Chinese people because some products such as some foods had problems with them. Many people avoid all blacks because some people of that race have problems with crime. Is it racist to generalize the negative characteristics of a few to the whole race? Is it fair to avoid all blacks because they are negatively stereotyped as having criminal tendency? Would it be equally fair then to ask if it is unfair to avoid all food products made by Chinese people because some have been tainted in the past? If it is racist to think that black have a tendency towards crime, is it racist to think Chinese have a tendency towards sloppiness and making shoddy products? What is more racist? To say that black people can't study, or white man can't jump (basketball), or British can't cook.

    My point is that no one is completely free of biase based on race or ethnicity or religion.

    Another example: Assume you saw a news headline for the first time that read: "Uygur protest in China, 200 dead". What is your immediate gut instinct on who did the killing? The Chinese government or the Uygurs? Be honest. Most Westerners reading that one-liner would automatically assume that the race-based killing what inflicted by the Chinese upon the Uygur. Such assumption is evidence of racism. People when asked will deny racism but consciously or unconsciously they hold some degree of racist biase.

    Comparing US to China: try

    December 21, 2009 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  29. shiki

    I think Lou Jing is amazing and I was very touched by her story. Being black in America I can relate to some of her story. She seems sincere and beautiful and I hope she gets everything she wants in life. Chinese people may be racist or bigoted but no more than the people of the USA.

    December 21, 2009 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  30. Black Man In America

    John and Enrico are right.
    As an African who has been living in America for just 5 years I can tell you I would prefer my fate be decided by a white and not an asian person.

    American Caucasians have made tremendous strides on the issue of racism. White people often question/feel guilty about racist views; my experience with Asians is that they do not appear burdened by such irrelevant (to them) thoughts; toward me they often act with well-ingrained prejudice without any qualms.
    It is good fortune they do not (yet) have control of the apparatus of state of we black people would hear it.

    December 21, 2009 at 10:52 pm | Reply
  31. Paulo Franca - PLAFstudies.com

    Welcome to the new and globalized world! When people reach the highest level regarding this issue they will then realize that Brazil is far beyond this whole thing. We're years light ahead of many countries. The mix here is total.

    December 21, 2009 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  32. Dirk Waldon

    Lou Jing should not feel like she's living in THE south (United States of dez Americas) in the 1900s. As a Afro-American I can feel her pain. Being one of the first three of my race to attend an all WHITE middle school in Lakeland, Florida where every minute of the school day they, (teachers and students), reminded you how so unwelcome you were. Forced intergration. China has to transform with the real world since their country will be in dire need for the raw materials from the land (AFRICA). Ask Japan about that massive blockcade after America got fed up with their crap which provoked Pearl's attack. They are island in itself.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:05 am | Reply
  33. wo cao ni ma

    pls understand the whole story and not comment on selected parts.

    she is innocent , the one should be sorry is her mother, as her father just knew she cheated with a black people when the baby delivered, furthermore, the mother did not know anything about this stranger, it is not love. and the the girl want to win in the show, it is her tutor's idea to broadcast her abnormal experience to attract more votes.

    idiot editor ,

    December 22, 2009 at 2:36 am | Reply
  34. Dodie ~ CA

    China has its own race problems. The Hans, who are the majority and considered the aristocrats; for many years looked down their noses at the minority, who by the way are also Chinese. I have seen this all over China. 90% of my family is part Chinese (Han), and they all have had problems because they were mixed with other races including Caucasian. Oh yes, white people are considered a poor quality race by many Chinese Hans. You would never know this, but just try to marry a Han and have children. Even American Chinese often regard the Caucasian race as beneath them. They do not outwardly express this; but they think it!

    December 22, 2009 at 5:28 am | Reply
  35. vic

    I think Lou Jing is physically beautiful; she should attempt a modeling career outside of China, where more of the public appreciates and treasures diversity.

    December 22, 2009 at 11:32 am | Reply
  36. Annie

    After reading this story from CNN, I searched some articles from Chinese websits. Most people are not talking about this beautiful girls color. People are talking about her mom's cheating about her merriage with a chinese guy. During their merriage, this mom had an affair with a black guy and gave a birth to this girl. Before this girl was born, the black guy disappeared. Then the mom and chinese dad together raised her for three years. At last, Chinese father couldnot afford neighbour's talking about his personal life. Then they divorced.

    December 22, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  37. Amanda

    This article didn't tell people the truth. Her mom had an affair with a black guy during her marriage with a Chinese guy. Her Chinese husband knew what happened when this beautiful girl was born. Imagine it..., the man was waiting his little baby coming. Then he found that this girl was not his baby. This was a big hurt and shame for him. The Chinese husband left Shanghai and went to Japan with a broken heart. People said he had a new family after many years since then. Today, the girl is on the stage. I think this mom is really irresponsible because this mom doesn't care about her girl's feeling and just wants her to be famous. So I think they are trying to get people's attention. In Chinese websites, most people are angry at her mom, not because this gril's color. Come on, She is very beautiful. Most people are angry about her mom. She told her personal life on the stage. Does she care about her child's feeling? No, not at all.
    I mean many people want to be famous for many reasons. But you shouldn't get people's attention by this way. It's cruel and It's hurting people who you love.

    December 23, 2009 at 4:43 am | Reply
  38. Holger Breme

    Racism is no privilege of white people. It's the most stupid thing man can do to his brethren. When our ancestors left Africa, they were a great family. Nowadays it seems too many people have forgotten we are of the same flesh and blood.

    December 23, 2009 at 7:45 am | Reply
  39. CHRIS

    It is sad. China however is not the only nation still struggling in this racial becloud but will not be excused because of it. China only recently hosted the Olympics and was seen baring their welcoming teeth to people of all races to their nation, but here now faced with the true living-among-them test of color shining in their midst, they bare the rotten side of their teeth. Discrimination really is a thing of the ancestors handed down generation to generation. We really need to understand that we do not owe our ancestors any thing if we discard some of their foolish practices and beliefs. Our kids today do not care about race or color, it is the parents who force these things on them. Let us all rise from the dust of archaic practices and brush ourselves free of racial beliefs for all men are born equal and none are more equal than others.

    December 23, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  40. Emenike Egelle

    I agree that China has a long history of xenophobia. I also know that many people have a lot of experiences when it comes to their encounter with Chinese counterparts. People see all sort of things and view Chinese citizens as desperate traitors. I personally do not think these allegations are true. My experience with the Chinese has been very rewarding as there has not been any racial connotation to it.

    December 26, 2009 at 4:59 am | Reply
  41. Tobi Mzobe

    China is a racist not much so than other nations. We have all mastered the art of pretence because the diversity in our countries forces us to, but china is still getting there. Contrary to what the world believes, we stil have similar problems here in South Africa. When Big Brother started in 2001 it was a white show and had white audiences, but when it became continental the show had mainly black housemates and it lost all white audiences, not a single white person is seen at the set. This is always the case with reality tv here and what happened once in china happens every year in South Africa

    December 27, 2009 at 5:26 am | Reply
  42. Kwaku

    The beauty of the world we live in is the fact that we can freely speak our minds or is it?
    Now this is to Mei, like Anne said in her piece, I also "pity" you. For you to say Lou Jing is illegitimate and that her mother should be ashamed of her self is not only myopic and shallow but also shows your level of intellect and ignorance. Needless to say, comments like that are like flatulence ... they stink and have no purpose. Look around and you will realize that human beings are free to make choices in life, this of course includes spouses, the number of children we can have, education, careers, cars,the ability to do right or wrong and so on (of course unless you live in mainland China). So I say that to say you do not determine what is legitimate or not. Besides how do you know the mother cheated and frankly if she did it is none of your flipping business. Lou Jing do not be detterred and strive for the best in all you do.

    December 30, 2009 at 1:31 am | Reply
  43. jabelar

    I've traveled a lot to China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. In all of them I have heard the locals express strong racist ideas. Many actually will rank all the races. Usually they consider their own to be best (although they'll usually rank whites as equals or sometimes superior), they'll rank each other (like Koreans will say that Chinese are "dirty"), then Arabs/Persians and finally Africans and aboriginals are at the bottom. I would say that 80% of women in Asia would be disowned by their family if they married someone of African descent.

    December 30, 2009 at 9:47 am | Reply
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