Home > Analysis, media > Why are most of the advertising models in China Caucasian?

Why are most of the advertising models in China Caucasian?

This is a follow up to DJ’s post on the Official Chinese Olympic Fashion, but from a different angle. Instead of mutual respect between the host and guests, I have some introspective and soul-searching thoughts about the Chinese identity fantasy in the context of a global culture.

1. The Phenomenon

On my trips back to China, one phenomenon distresses me. In the commercial districts and public transportation vehicles of the cities and towns I went, most of the indoor and outdoor advertising featured Caucasian models. From huge billboards and TV screens on the outside walls of malls, as well as small screens and pinups in crowded subway trains, Caucasian guys and gals stared at me or ignored me, displaying a wide range of merchandize, from English lessons (reasonable) to apartments, cars, furniture, suits, underwear, shavers and deodorants. I was dismayed not by the models’ ethnicity per se, but their irrelevance to the Chinese men, and women and children filling the streets under their gaze, who invariably looked as Chinese as steamed buns (比馒头还中国化). The models’ disconnection from the context and environment makes them lifeless, soulless, out of place and absurd. They are cardboards hanging from the wall. My first thought was “are Chinese advertisers living in a bubble and alienated from the consumers they are talking to?” This Caucasian colonization of modeling and advertising is not limited to hippie quarters of BJ and SH. In a shabby department store of a rundown rural town pushing discount stuff, the likeliness of an unidentified, average looking, low-spirit Caucasian chap stared at me in the eye in a very bizarre way from the wall, sporting a suit of cheap material and dubious design.

One day I walked past a Nike store and saw their announcement on the window that the Olympic competition uniform (the scanty ones you wear in the action) they had designed for the Chinese team was on display. I wondered why Li Ning (the only brand I wear at the gym) did not get this honor. I went in to check it out. The uniform consisted of two pieces, a pair of shorts and a tank top in bold China red, with the English word “China” printed in China gold on the chest. It was on prominent display, on a series of life-size sculptures of a male athlete on the tracks, running to the door, in the process of jumping over a hurdle. The material of the sculpture was shiny and metallic, in the color of maple syrup. Looking at the sculpture I was dismayed; it was Caucasian again (or I thought). Now I had enough, and immediately summoned a young shop attendant and demanded to know why they put the Chinese uniform on a foreign guy. Hurdling is Liu Xiang’s cup of tea and why didn’t he get the job? The shop attendant was shocked out of his wits by my righteous indignation. He stuttered: “Thi thi thi this is Liu Xiang.” I looked more closely, exclaiming “really? Is this Ah Xiang? Is this Xiang Zi? 是吗?这是阿翔吗?这翔子吗?” It was Liu Xiang alright. But I swear to Chairman Mao they gave him striking European features.

2. The Interpretations

I have tried hard to wrap my mind around this phenomenon and decipher its implications. Advertising, especially advertising for fashion and lifestyle products, is material for ordinary people’s fantasy about who they are and what kind of people they wanna be. How are the teenagers and children in the process of constructing a storyline about their individual and cultural identities influenced by the fact that guys and gals with foreign looks occupy the billboards and those in their semblance get kicked out?

Categories: Analysis, media Tags: , , , ,
  1. DJ
    July 18th, 2008 at 15:42 | #1

    I noticed similar over abundance of Caucasian models used in posters and commercial signs of all kinds in Taipei earlier this year.

    Incidentally, the Washington Post had an article specifically on this phenomenon in India.

  2. Wukailong
    July 18th, 2008 at 16:34 | #2

    Funny. This morning, as I was walking by a newly finished building, I saw a huge picture on the wall with an apparently American family, and had kind of the same thought.

  3. July 18th, 2008 at 16:37 | #3

    For me it stems from the fact that in recent history imported products have been more expensive and of a higher quality, accentuated by the fact that after a crippling period in China’s history foriegners have ben afforded a sort of mystique and were considered to be generally richer and perhaps more sophisticated in some way.

    It really depends on the product and the target of the advertising in question too. For instance I’ve often seen grey haired caucasian executives used to advertise office space, particularly in Beijing, though I would stop short at implying that the choice was causasian for any reason other than the pericieved value of doing business in an international environment. To advertse basketball gear a company might use an african american model.

    I agree that the occurrances might be dispropotionately high given the abundance of suitable Chinese role models but in a country where only a small percentage can afford international travel the Chinese have a huge hunger for international brands.

    There is something inherantly appealling about an international product, though I have never understood the softcore porn on the boxes in the underwear isle of the supermarket!

  4. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 16:53 | #4

    Nick,

    I am perfectly ok with the appeal of international sophistication. Its blind and thoughtless overuse has made it blasé and cliché. That’s only a commercial problem. I am concerned about the norm-setting effect of these imported images on the Chinese youth. What is the message to them? Forget about looking cool or in, just to be normal you have to look like them. This is a self-defeating game. The heart of the problem lies with the brainless and useless Chinese cultural elite.

  5. July 18th, 2008 at 17:06 | #5

    I put it down to:

    1) Poor national self image, endless talk of historical greatness one sees on television and in the newspaper seems to do nothing to counter this. I hope you will forgive me if I say that I think that much of this talk is a product of this poor self image.

    2) In certain areas it is thought to be better to use a model of European extraction (such as in lingerie)

    3) The idea of lighter skin looking better.

    4) For certain people it lends an air of internationalism and modernity.

    5) Because they can.

    On a side note, why do Americans use the term ‘Caucasian’? I am not from the Caucasus, and the ethnographic theory that white people come from the Caucasus has been discredited for a very long time. I understand that for Americans being called ‘European’ might seem but a bit strange, but no more strange than using the term ‘Asian’ for those of Asian extraction. And what is wrong with the term ‘white’? At any rate, what do Americans call people who actually do come from the Caucasus region?

  6. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 17:18 | #6

    FOARP

    “Poor national self image…..” This sounds superficial and simplistic.

    Caucasian is a neutral reference to white people.
    The term white has some historical baggage related with racism, but nothnig serious.
    I think in America people actually from the Caucasus region in the ex-Soviet republics are referred to as “central Asians”.

  7. oldson
    July 18th, 2008 at 17:27 | #7

    Nick,
    Regardless of actual quality imports are universally deemed better. Foreigners are viewed as richer and more sophisticated. Perhaps that is why so many shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc ‘zai’ (slaughter – rip off) foreigners. One time I was getting in a taxi with my Chinese wife and her sister. They started to bargain but the taxi driver shouted out ‘you have a foreigner with you! How dare to bargain with me!” He angrily sped off.

    Still, you are correct in saying that “it really depends on the product and the target of the advertising”. I remember a boss requested to have foreigners present at their factory. I arranged for few caucasian foreigner to visit their factory and they were subsequently given white coats and told to pretend to be intelligent and chat with the Chinese engineers. After a few moments a tour group came by with visiting customers and investors. So the company brought in a few caucasians to pretend to be an internationally qualified company. The point being is that image is everything in China and by using caucasians as models it is only to utilize old stereotypes in order to sell money. Commercials in China have always had caucasian executives or bearded doctors appear and their voices are dubbed over with a Chinese voice saying that the product boasts quality and sophistication.

    I must agree with bianxiangbianqiao that has a negative norm setting effect on Chinese youth. Sure, you will always see in commercials an elderly Chinese practicing tai ji for medical products. But when it comes to anything technological, international, etc suddenly Chinese aren’t good enough and you have to have tired foreign stereogypes. The Chinese youth need to be proud of their amazing heritage and culture. By over relying on foreign models it only reinforces the idea that foreigners are the bringer of new and better things (products, technology). This is ridiculous and harmful to the youth.

  8. Jane
    July 18th, 2008 at 17:28 | #8

    @ FOARP,

    In America, the term “Caucasian” is usually the catch all term for people from Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. It is not restricted to people of European descent. Usually, these are the main ethnic categories we are to choose from in America: Asian, Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Native American and others. By Asian, they are really referring to East and Southeast Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Malaysians etc), so many Asians such as Indians, Israelis, Turks elect Caucasian as their ethnic category.

    Yeah, it’s all kind of silly and inconsistent. The categories Asians and Caucasians tend to refer to a more genetic ancestry whereas the term Hispanic has more of a cultural/geographic connotation. Latin America is hardly a homogeneous place and yet we categorize all of them as Hispanics. My friend’s father is of Spanish ancestry, looks just like any other white person, yet because he has a Spanish surname and is from Puerto Rico, he is usually categorized as Hispanic rather than Caucasian which really doesn’t make any sense.

  9. fobtacular
    July 18th, 2008 at 17:36 | #9

    BXBQ

    I think by using Caucasian models, companies can justify their product at higher price. In the mind of most Chinese, Caucasian are expensive and demand higher standard. It is the same thing when American suitcase salesman claim their product are Italian made and not “Made in China”, thus justifying their higher price. Perception is the key to marketing. If Chinese car company were able to make Ferrari that are comparable in terms of quality and cost, the Chinese will have a very difficult time selling at the same price as Italians do.

  10. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 18:06 | #10

    I am ok with the commercial motivation of pushing expensive products by using peoples’ stereotypes of rich, sophisticated and demanding white folks. But I think advertising and selling products in general is more than that. With your product or brand you want to give people some aspiration and inspiration about what they can be and how they can look. Can you imagine a Chinese lad looking at a European model on the billboard and say to himself “I want to look just like him.” It would be nonsensical.

    Sometimes I think about moving back to China and setting up a business, to make and market a product, bank on the idea that you can be as Chinese as the steamed bun, but really cool. At least old Fen Qings like me would make a run for that kind of products. Do you think it is worth a talk with a venture capitalist? I have no confidence in my potential as a businessman and will need partners.

  11. July 18th, 2008 at 18:11 | #11

    @oldson,

    In 86 in Taiwan, I was one of those white guys given a white coat to model in front of an industrial robot. 🙂 I was told that the owner wanted to make a catalog for the US market and wanted an American to showcase his product. I was close enough.

    I agree with what you say:

    The Chinese youth need to be proud of their amazing heritage and culture. By over relying on foreign models it only reinforces the idea that foreigners are the bringer of new and better things (products, technology). This is ridiculous and harmful to the youth.

  12. July 18th, 2008 at 18:14 | #12

    I’ve wondered about the same thing myself. And I think it does have a negative impact for native youth growing up, as far as their self-image and self-esteem go. My impression is that this phenomenon does not just happen in China.

    Having lived in the US for so long, I found it a bit strange when looking at mail catalog models, such as Land’s End. You see a lot of combo of muscular African-American males and tall, blond white females, posed as cool, fashionable couples. Obviously you also see a lot white couples, but rarely do you see a white male and black female posing together.

  13. AC
    July 18th, 2008 at 18:22 | #13

    I agree with oldson and fobtacular. The advertisers are playing up to the Chinese stereotypes. I also agree with BXBQ that this could have negative effects on the Chinese youth.

    @FOARP

    “3) The idea of lighter skin looking better.”

    This concept only applies to females. In classic Chinese literatures, the word “凝脂” (“butter” is the only equivalent English word I can think of) is often used to describe a beauty’s skin because of it’s smooth/even texture and light color. I guess that’s where the concept is originated.

    Man with light skin is considered unmanly sometimes.

  14. Buxi
    July 18th, 2008 at 18:50 | #14

    @BXBQ,

    Sometimes I think about moving back to China and setting up a business, to make and market a product, bank on the idea that you can be as Chinese as the steamed bun, but really cool.

    Now we’re talking. 🙂

    There are brands like Shanghai Tang (上海滩), but that’s really marketed towards expats (and maybe HK’ers?) in my opinion… I have a hard time walking through their store without gagging over the prices.

    You might know there’s a big movement amongst some Han fenqing to go back to “traditional Han” clothing. I think that’s a little overboard. But if there was a stylish maker of custom-fit Zhongshan suits (中山装)… I personally would love to have one in my closet for some occasions.

  15. July 18th, 2008 at 21:45 | #15

    @Buxi – I would be totally cool with of Hu, Wen, and the rest of the CCP Han busting their traditional Han dress at the next congress, throw in ques for good measure – why not?

  16. Chops
    July 18th, 2008 at 22:36 | #16

    There could be a pseudo-scientific explanation for this, called “exoticism”.

    A European lady may look downright ordinary in her own country, but looks attractive in China or another Eastern country.

    Likewise, a Chinese model who does’nt stand out in China, may be able to make it in the West, because over there she looks exotic.

    The exotic effect may be less in this modern age because of more international travel.

  17. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 18th, 2008 at 23:40 | #17

    Chops

    “exoticism”

    I think you got a scientific theory, not pseudo-scientific. I read about a theory about unconventional sexual orientations (gay and lesbian) called “exoticism leads to eroticism” or “what is exotic is erotic” (something to that effect).

    Exoticism is one factor but not the crucial one. There are groups more different from the Chinese than Europeans but under-represented among models in Chinese ads.

  18. HKonger
    July 18th, 2008 at 23:42 | #18

    Can you imagine a Chinese lad looking at a European model on the billboard and say to himself “I want to look just like him.” It would be nonsensical. BXBQ

    Some of heroes are black politicians, atheletes, celebrities and yes, souls, blues and rap artists. What do you call those white and ASian kids who act and talk like they are black rap artists? Is it just me, I find that annoying.I hope that’s not my closet-racist talking here.

  19. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 19th, 2008 at 00:03 | #19

    HKonger,

    “Some of heroes are black politicians, atheletes, celebrities and yes, souls, blues and rap artists. ”

    These cultural icons are different from fashion models. Politicians and artists relate their message with vehicles other than their looks. People from all groups can identify with the values in their message, even those genetically determined to look different from these politicians and artists.

    My childhood hero was Takakura Ken. He was not Chinese but the values played out in his movie roles are far more Chinese than hometown boys Jiang Wen and Jet Li.

    Fashion models has one vehicle to relate their message – their looks, period.

    Can you imagine a Chinese lad looking at a European model on the billboard and say to himself “I want to look just like him.” It would be nonsensical. It is indeed nonsensical because the Chinese lad is genetically determined to look different from the European. To have an aspiration for European features is self-defeating for him.

  20. fobtacular
    July 19th, 2008 at 00:15 | #20

    @Chops – From my experience, what you said does not apply to male models. In the west, male Asian models are nearly non-existent, and I don’t think there is any male Chinese model in the west. I think what inspired BXBQ to write this post is because there are more male Caucasian model on display than Chinese counterpart in China!!!!

  21. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 19th, 2008 at 00:18 | #21

    “…male Asian models are nearly non-existent..” fobtacular

    There are plenty nerdy looking Asians in education-related commercials.

  22. deltaeco
    July 19th, 2008 at 00:27 | #22

    @fobtacular
    “I don’t think there is any male Chinese model in the west.”
    Hhhhmmm…. Well… They do not look so bad. (from a professional point of view of course..;-)

    http://www.jurgita.com/models/chinese-male-models

    Time to time. I think the time is coming. Let see after Olympic Games. Just put some good looking professionals sportsmen in some status sports, and the market for CH models in the west will be opened.

  23. July 19th, 2008 at 04:36 | #23

    we see this everyday in Tianjin. Even in our older neighbourhood, there’s a sign near the gate, I think it’s says something about a happy community, featuring a super-white, super-blond family of four! In this neighbourhood it looks ridiculous (to me), because our neighbours are old and kinda more traditional. And there are lots of foreign models in the malls.

    But I have noticed that Coke is using Asian models, even in a subtly-sexy way (example here: http://chinahopelive.net/2007/11/28/selling-it), though in Tianjin sexualized advertising is usually tame by Western standards (I’ve seen several different ads where they put a Chinese woman in a low-cut, suggestive top but then somewhat creatively block her cleavage from view).

  24. deltaeco
    July 19th, 2008 at 07:20 | #24

    “I’ve seen several different ads where they put a Chinese woman in a low-cut, suggestive top but then somewhat creatively block her cleavage from view”

    Damn!!

  25. deltaeco
    July 19th, 2008 at 07:34 | #25

    @Buxi
    “You might know there’s a big movement amongst some Han fenqing to go back to “traditional Han” clothing”

    That would be as inconvenient as trying to reintroduce the ancient Roman toga

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toga
    (where would you put your mobile phone for example?)

    As you indicated in your post, what would be needed are more Chinese mode designers (recognized internationally if possible) who would blend Chinese style ans specially components of ancient Chinese clothes in modern clothing.

    With men suits, you can do only so much and not very fast. Not much room for strong variations.
    With women clothing, specially for “cocktail events”, much more can be done.

    100 Years ago, a type of dress brought from Manila, inspired in Chinese clothing was very popular here among women. It was called “Chinese clothing”

    Some “European” designers living in Asia are already doing it. They use local (asian) materials and designs for new clothings

  26. deltaeco
    July 19th, 2008 at 07:34 | #26
  27. Vadaga
    July 19th, 2008 at 09:31 | #27

    I was just buying water at the Lawson next to my apartment while thinking about this post.

    Looking at the covers of the 16 fashion mags on the newsstand:

    12 were Chinese models
    3 were western models
    1 was Japanese

    There are plenty of Chinese models in SH/Beijing…

    On the other hand, I have definitely noticed lots of random foreigners getting put on huge ads everywhere, most notably recently when I was in Guilin and there were pictures of Kaka (Brazillian soccer player) on just about everything 😮

  28. Sebastian
    July 19th, 2008 at 10:05 | #28

    Did anyone notice that in Japanese Manga and Anime most characters are Caucasian too, big round eyes and blond hair. Maybe thats an Asian thing…

  29. Marc
    July 19th, 2008 at 10:10 | #29

    As an expat living in Shanghai, honestly I do not see many advertisements featuring caucasian models as you suggest. Since my Chinese wife works for a French luxury retailer in China, I know for certain that her company prefers to recruit Chinese models to promote their products in the Chinese market because it feels more authentic. If you open any Chinese fashion magazine nowadays (including the Chinese edition of western magazines like Vogue, Cosmopolitan, etc.), you will see that most of the models (my guess 80%) are Chinese. Actually, what I perceive is the opposite trend, namely more chinese cultural products being divulgated in the west, to the extent that I think an Easternization of the West is occuring at the moment. Cross-cultural fertilization is healthy if it is practised with an attitude of mutual learning.

  30. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 19th, 2008 at 13:52 | #30

    Vadaga,

    Thanks for the stats. I am sure the one Japanese model you saw was a celebrity, most likely a movie star with broad Chinese recognition.

    I over-estimated the percentage of Caucasian models in BJ and SH. But their salience and prominence are unmistakable. They are salient for three reasons.

    1. The context in which you find them is nonsensical. Like Joel pointed out, it is absurd to have an American family as representatives of a housing development inhibited almost exclusively by Chinese.

    2. The barrier for entry for them is low. You see a lot of average Joes with no outstanding characteristics except their Caucasian features. Caucasian models are used simply for their ethnicity. Asian models are used for a different purpose; they must look really hot or be famous.

    3. The use of Caucasian models is has a different flavor than the Eastern elements Marc pointed out in the western media, which are pure and simple exoticism and curiosity. In China Caucasian models are promoted as some sort of standard for the mainstream society.

    What makes me want to pound a fist on the table is the implications of this phenomenon, i.e., some Chinese with upward mobility have fake identities. They pretend to be somebody they are not. The consequences go far beyond aesthetic repulsiveness; it is not just a matter of taste. If you are uncomfortable about being yourself, you cannot have confidence in your ideas and cannot develop and ASSERT your ideas in scientific and political thinking. The country would have little hope to innovate or lead; it would remain a copier and follower forever.

    Fake identity has plagued a small but visible portion of the Chinese for a long time. This problem is most serious among young professional women. Years ago the symptom was an acquired Taiwan accent. When I was in BJ in the 90s I had a work meeting with a young Chinese woman I met for the first time and left prematurely without leaving my name card. She was unmistakably a product of Beijing’s Mentougou (门头沟) but spoke with a meticulous Taipei accent (no snobbery here, nothing uncool about Mentougou). You cannot trust someone with so much lack of authenticity.

  31. July 19th, 2008 at 14:48 | #31

    @BXBQ – If you wish to assault ‘fake identities’ amongst part of the Chinese population, I have a list of things which should be dealt with before you get to using westerners in advertising:

    1) Use of English names not only inside the office, but everywhere else, and by people who are basically non-fluent in English, and where the office may contain few or no non-Chinese-speaking foreigners. This always struck me as incredibly odd and colonial.

    2) Hounding after foreign citizenship – the way in which foreign citizenship or HK/Macau residency is a kind of status symbol amongst Chinese of a certain class is quite bizarre. Taiwan and Hong Kong are the worst for this. Many of these people learn virtually nothing about their adopted country, not even the language, and contribute nothing in the way of taxes, but will almost certainly be crowding around the embassies of their adopted countries in event of some catastrophe. I remember visiting HK with a friend of mine and chatting to a girl in a Lang Kwai Fong bar, she couldn’t speak English and I can’t speak Cantonese so we got chatting in Mandarin, I then introduced myself to her friend. She shouted at me saying, in English as broken as a Yuanmingyuan window, “Why are you speaking in Chinese, I’m Canadian!”. As though I am supposed to know that a woman of Asian appearance with a non-English speaking friend in a bar in Hong Kong is actually a Canadian citizen. The phenomenon of twenty-something Chinese women marrying 50+ year-old men with western citizenship is one I’m sure we are all familiar with.

    3) The way in which qualifications from foreign universities, even those from low-rate community college/former-polytechnics, is seen as being automatically better than qualifications received from decent Chinese universities is laughable.

    4) Similar to the one above, the fashion for sending children to international schools is a strange one. An HK ex-colleague of mine was a product of one of these schools – neither his English, his Cantonese, or his Mandarin was of native standard. In his case the fact that he was the product of an arranged marriage between an non-Cantonese-speaking Chinese-American woman and a non-English-speaking HK man didn’t help, but it is an example of what may happen.

    5) Hypocrisy. The thing which makes all of the above so stingingly unpalatable is that the very same people who do these kind of things will often be the first to carry on about how proud they are to be Chinese, or how arrogant foreigners are. The same people who will approach native-born westerners as talking about ‘us westerners’ when speaking English will then turn around and talk about “我们中国人”, “他们老外” when talking to Chinese people. Over-hearing a US-citizenship-holding Taipei-born colleague of mine doing exactly this was one of the most mind-bending things I heard in China.

    The solution to this is not an education which consists of ‘remembering national shame’, but one which instils greater national confidence, not omni-directional sensitivity.

  32. Marc
    July 19th, 2008 at 16:12 | #32

    BXBQ,

    I kindly disagree with most of your points.

    1) “In China Caucasian models are promoted as some sort of standard for the mainstream society.”

    I think this is a bitter accusation. Western brands (especially in the luxury fashion sector) often adopts a globally integrated advertising strategy to achieve economies of scale. Therefore, they use the same caucasian models in their worldwide campaigns. At the same time, however, they also need to localize their marketing strategies to get successfully embedded into the local consumer culture. Hence, the use of Chinese models for their fashion shows and magazine photo shootings. It is important to distinguish between a corporate strategy (coming from the the firm headquarters) and a business or competitive strategy (done at the regional office level).

    2) “Caucasian models are used simply for their ethnicity”. I agree on this.

    3) “The use of Caucasian models has a different flavor than the Eastern elements Marc pointed out in the western media, which are pure and simple exoticism and curiosity”.

    Some Chinese cultural products arouse more than simple curiosity. Think of movies for example. A decade ago in western movie theatres you could hardly find as many Chinese movies as today. Chinese celebrities like Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi or Gong Li are recognised cultural icons in the west. Just go on you tube and read some comments made by western fans…

    4) “Some Chinese with upward mobility have fake identities. They pretend to be somebody they are not”.

    This is the point I most strongly disagree with you. I know a lot of what you call “Chinese with upper mobility”. I can ensure you they are not pretending to be someone they are not. They are just the first generation of Chinese who had the chance to live in a sligtly more liberal and open society. They are holding firmly their Chinese identity, while enjoying the possibility to engage with other roles/models that globalisation has offered to them. Civilization has ceased to be that delicate flower which was preserved and painstakingly cultivated by people relegated in their own places. Mankind has opted for multiculturalism and that implies that people’ identities are not as fixed as before. In fact, they are more fluid than ever.

    .

  33. Andy R
    July 19th, 2008 at 19:58 | #33

    The author’s anecdote about “seeing caucasian” when observing a Liu Xiang image kind of calls his observation into question. Naturally, if you are sensitive to racial politics your eyes are going to be drawn to the caucasian faces. I’m sorry but there is simply no way that Chinese faces are underrepresented in advertising over here. I’m in the thick of it, and I could probably count the number of caucasian models I see in advertising on (maybe) two hands as I walk around Hangzhou. I also call into question the deleterious affect such advertisements have on Chinese youth. First of all, it sounds like a throwback to the “spiritual pollution” campaigns of the 1980s. Secondly, in the last 30 years a generation has grown up confronted with this type of imagery, yet I do not see those coming of age today any less attached to their Chinese roots. In fact, the young people of today are some of the most patriotic. The author himself lives in the US where he must be bombarded with this type of “white advertising” everyday, yet his attachment to country and culture seems well intact. So, I guess my question is what’s the big deal? It seems that you are just creating controversy for controversy’s sake.

  34. Andy R
    July 19th, 2008 at 20:52 | #34
  35. July 19th, 2008 at 22:17 | #35

    @Andy R – Dude, what western corps do outside of China has nothing to do with what Chinese corps do inside China. Foot, mouth, extract?

  36. July 19th, 2008 at 22:18 | #36

    @Andy R – Plus, this is a phenomenon throughout Asia, not just in China and not just now.

  37. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 20th, 2008 at 04:32 | #37

    FOARP,

    I am not saying the problem lies in Western advertising. From my brief observation, Chinese manufacturers use even more white models than foreign companies. One example that sticks out in my mind was 波斯登 (Bosteng or something like that). The name is nonsensical in Chinese, but it sounds foreign. They make padded heavy coats for winter. I cannot imagine any non-Chinese would wear those coats. In Beijing subway they have a big poster, showing a group of (at least 10) European youths, in various postures of rejoice, in front of a structure that seems to be a European royal palace, wearing those funny coats.

    “….Hounding after foreign citizenship…” I have no information about Hong Kong and Taiwan on this issue. But your description is totally false concerning mainland Chinese. US permanent residence is pursued purely for pragmatic reasons. Your work visa is good for only up to six years, beyond that a green card is a must for you to work here. Advertising foreign citizenship for self-esteem is unimaginable among the Chinese I know of, even when they are high. Not paying taxes? Taxes are deducted by the employer from your pay.

    “The way in which qualifications from foreign universities, even those from low-rate community college/former-polytechnics, is seen as being automatically better than qualifications received from decent Chinese universities….” This info is so 1994. It might be true 15 years ago. Do you know how many returnees with degrees from decent overseas universities are jobless after their return? Do you know what kind of low pay those who get jobs are putting up with?

  38. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 20th, 2008 at 04:51 | #38

    “The author’s anecdote about “seeing caucasian” when observing a Liu Xiang image kind of calls his observation into question.”

    Even the Asian models on the Billboards I saw had Western flavor in their features. The Western standard for physical attractiveness has a strong hold on the urban Chinese sense of aesthetics. Why do you think so many people are undergoing plastic surgery?

    “…there is simply no way that Chinese faces are underrepresented in advertising over here.”

    How do you define white model’s over-representation and Chinese models’ under-representation, according to the proportion of Caucasians and Chinese in China’s population, or according to the composition of the consumers the advertisers target? Either way Caucasian models are disproportionately over-represented. They may not be in the numerical majority, but have penetrated all segments of the Chinese society, from the very rich to the relatively poor, even in areas where they have no connection with the product or the targeted consumer.

  39. bianxiangbianqiao
    July 20th, 2008 at 05:09 | #39

    Marc,
    The problem is not with Western businesses. They do whatever they need to sell products. They not only use Chinese models, but also add Chinese herbs in their Shapoo if they think the Chinese consumers would like it.

    The random use of Caucasian models reflects intellectual laziness and lack of creativity in Chinese advertising in particular and cultural life in general. To attract attention and demonstrate the products’ sophistication you simply get a foreign model. It has become the routine way of advertising.

    “Mankind has opted for multiculturalism and that implies that people’ identities are not as fixed as before. In fact, they are more fluid than ever.”

    This conclusion is premature. “Mankind” sounds warm and fuzzy but a bit empty and unspecific. I read about a study in the United States a while ago (decades). White and Black kindergarten children were given dolls depicting White and Black characters. Unsurprisingly White children regarded White dolls as more desirable. Surprisingly Black children also regarded White dolls as more desirable. Multiculturalism is seldom a two-way street. I am not against globalization. I just would like the Chinese have a strong indigenous element in their representation of who they are.

  40. Marc
    July 20th, 2008 at 05:33 | #40

    BXBQ,

    I get you point. As anthropologist Appadurai argues, the central problem of today’s global interaction is the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization. This is the kind of tension China should try to solve. However, I think that there exist strong, countervailing forces to globalisation, namely, localisation forces that constantly try to preserve and reassert local cultures. Place still matters. This is an interesting article written by a well known British academic discussing this particular issue:

    Jackson, P. (2004). Local consumption cultures in a globalizing world, Transactions Institute of British Geographers, 29, 165-78.

  41. Buxi
    July 20th, 2008 at 06:10 | #41

    @BXBQ,

    I agree with you fully on this point:

    This info is so 1994. It might be true 15 years ago. Do you know how many returnees with degrees from decent overseas universities are jobless after their return? Do you know what kind of low pay those who get jobs are putting up with?

    The phenomenon is probably worthy of a blog post too, since the situation has changed so quickly many might not be aware of it… I wouldn’t say it was true only 15 years ago, though. I think it was probably true until only 4-5 years ago, at least based on what I saw in my circles.

  42. Wukailong
    July 20th, 2008 at 06:16 | #42

    I agree with bianxiangbianqiao. Western companies rarely use Western models because they’re getting into the Chinese market, and they figure it’s better to use something catering to local palate, whereas with Chinese companies it’s all the rage. This morning I saw an ad for a company that helps people immigrate to Canada, showing a Caucasian family. That makes no sense at all unless you are supposed to be adopted by them or something…

    On the other hand, it’s not really that people here are pursuing “the Western standard for physical attractiveness”, because the models are usually not that attractive for non-Chinese and lack a good tan.

  43. July 20th, 2008 at 06:28 | #43

    i think one of the reasons is what Nick said above (#3). we also know lafayette paris’ consignment has been ‘conquered’ by pseudo-european chinese brand 出口转内销 coutners.

    but this is not all of the story. it has to do with the current (pop) cultural ‘leadership’ of the west in general, etc. e.g. Japan employs a lot caucasians for advertising (search Youtube for Schwarzneger, or almost every hollywood star, and watch the most “culturally condescending” movie called “lost in translation”)

  44. xueling
    July 21st, 2008 at 06:21 | #44

    On a somewhat related note, I have long noticed that all of the beautiful young female Chinese models I see on posters and billboards have utterly white skin and wide-open eyes suggestive of eyelid surgery. That tends to bother me as much as out-of-place Caucasians in ads. Obviously every culture has silly and unrealistic beauty stereotypes; the white-skinned, wide-eyed Chinese beauty has to be at least as discouraging to typical young Chinese as the anorexic models in western fashion mags.

  45. oldson
    July 21st, 2008 at 17:38 | #45

    Has anyone mentioned that in China individuals with darker skin are looked down as “uneducated and uncooth farmers”? Even though poor farmers make up the majority of China’s population and provide a backbone for their agrarian output, they are still insulted and treated with prejudice and spite. Calling someone a ‘farmer’ is the same as we would call someone a redneck or hillbilly.

    The whiter you are can imply that you are richer and belong to a higher social class. Individuals are white because they do not need to work outside and spend their time indoors or at leasure activities. Other Asia countries are like this (Philippines, Korea, etc)

    I always point this fact out: in America if you are a pale caucasion (like me) who spends their time watching Star Trek and using a computer, you are considered a nerd and socially inferior to the tanned physically fit who spend their time playing beach volley ball, driving sports cars and clubbing. In China it is the opposite: if you are pale that means you are a good student and avoid doing manual labor. Therefore it is only natural that marketing in China would use lighter skin people to imply quality. It is indirect racism and prejudice but has to do more with the struggling Chinese social classes (and the evil bourgeois) then racism against non-caucasion foreigners.

  46. Asian American guy
    June 25th, 2009 at 21:46 | #46

    It is quite sad that Chinese people subject themselve to brainwash themself into oblivion. Such is the deep inferiority complex that they taken and taught by their imperial oppressor.:

    Google: Modern Racist Paradigm. The video is very enlightening.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.