Even as China criticizes the West for supposed racism and white supremacy, every once in a while a story slips into the American news cycle that reminds us that China is one of the most racially prejudiced societies in the world. Last week it was a series of reports of African workers in Guangzhou, a popular destination for migrants, being evicted and forcibly tested over rumors that they were vectors for coronavirus transmission. Among the examples of discrimination was a sign posted on the door of a Guangzhou McDonald’s: “Black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant,” from the same company claiming to promote “black excellence” in America.
These sorts of attitudes pervade Chinese society, from daily life to advertisements that depict Africans as dirty and contemptible. China’s rising global influence has also extended the reach of its prejudice. A viral video from February recently resurfaced of a Chinese man cajoling children in an African village to chant, “I’m a black monster with low IQ.” An investigation discovered that this video was merely one of many produced by a budding industry in which Chinese social media users pay for customized messages to be delivered by oblivious African children. Other primary sources documenting Chinese–African relations on the ground consistently show Chinese ambitions in the continent to be imperial and paternalistic as opposed to the egalitarian image promoted by state media. One example is the 2011 documentary Empire of Dust, an excellent depiction not only of Chinese infrastructure investment in Africa but also of excruciating cultural condescension.