Does this commercial unfairly stereotype China?

Read the post, watch the video, then read the comments. Then let me know what you think. (Personally, I don’t have a problem with it, but am willing to consider other viewpoints.)

The Discussion: 32 Comments

You are asking whether I feel that the advertisement is promoting stereotype. Yes, it is, but not any more than those that feature hopping kangaroos as a symbol of Australia.

But if you are asking whether I think that the advert is doing injustice to China’s modernisation effort, then the answer is a categorical NO. If you’ve been to village schools in rural areas in China, you’ll understand what I mean. If you haven’t, have a look at this picture of a village school on Hainan Island and this in Shaanxi province, you’ll see what I mean. These are all recent photos.

November 18, 2006 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

I don’t know why the links didn’t come up. So I’ll quote them again here. You may have to cut and paste them to the Address bar to view the photos:

Hainan Island – http://www.seacology.org/project_photos/large/images/CHINA_school.jpg

Shaaxi – http://www.chinapictures.org/images/china-education/1/china-education-40610174503387.jpg

November 18, 2006 @ 1:18 pm | Comment

Yes its a steroetype. I’ll buy it! And I think if anyone who has a problem with it, that just makes it all the more funny.

November 18, 2006 @ 1:34 pm | Comment

I don’t think it stereotypes anything. It doesn’t stereotype Chinese people, because some are cold authoritarians (teacher) and some are badass rebels with awesome hair (students). In this sense, I think it’s anti-stereotype – it’s saying to Western viewers “see, some young Chinese people want to Ferris Bueller”. How often does that get around?

I don’t think it stereotypes China, because it doesn’t identify to the audience that it IS China – let’s face it, alot of westerners can’t tell Korean from Chinese characters. It also doesn’t identify what year it’s suppose to represent (perhaps it really IS set in 1966).

And you don’t have to go rural to see that kinda school sometimes. Try schools in second and third tier Chinese cities and there are plenty.

November 18, 2006 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

The only thing I could possibly find objectionable about this ad is its commodification of rebellion (“stylin’ your hair, like, in a different way with our products, like, totally makes you radical and transgressive”!), but I guess that’s par for the course in our consumer culture.

(Says the girl who reads fashion mags like religious tracts *cough*)

November 18, 2006 @ 2:10 pm | Comment

It’s just a stupid ad aimed at people who like to “rebel” by styling up their hair. Let’s just forget we ever saw it and stop talking about it so it will go away as quickly as possible.

November 18, 2006 @ 2:59 pm | Comment

The Kangaroo is a symbol of Australia? Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, I thought BEER was the symbol of Australia.

(Runs off to look at encyclopedia….)

November 18, 2006 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

The Kangaroo is a symbol of Australia? Whoa, whoa, wait a minute, I thought BEER was the symbol of Australia.

It had always been a hopping Kangaroo until Crocodile Dudee came along – stupid American.

For the Japanese, however, it is a tree-hugging, leaf-eating Kaola. God knows where they get this strange idea from.

Beer, however, is just the symbol of a drunk Aussie Fat Cat.

November 18, 2006 @ 4:36 pm | Comment

Sure it’s a stereotype. But it does not defame Chinese. So I don’t see a problem in it.

Fat Cat, does this stereotype Australia? : )
http://youtube.com/watch?v=S2PcSJRiJTI

November 18, 2006 @ 5:27 pm | Comment

Fat Cat has a point. Have you seen the Australian beer adverts shown in the UK? Everyone wears cork hats, the guys aren’t properly shaven, slightly dim, etc.

It is a “stereotype”, but that isn’t to say that is what the producers REALLY thought China was like. It was just a very clever idea that required an older aspect of China to pull off.

November 18, 2006 @ 6:12 pm | Comment

I still say there’s no stereotype here. If it were a stereotype, it would be saying “all Chinese people are automatons”. The whole point of the ad is that it usurps that, albeit in a shallow consumerist kinda way. But it doesn’t generalize all Chinese as in “All Chinese students are mindless automatons” – instead, it declares the opposite, that Chinese students have individual desires and personalities, which can be unleashed with hair gel.

You can call it shallow, you can call it unrealistic, you can call it a tired cliche of the advertising industry (“rebellion, now on sale at Walmart for $12.99”) – but I don’t see a Chinese stereotype. On the other hand, when someone claims it’s the Chinese mindset to cheat and steal, THAT’S a stereotype.

November 18, 2006 @ 6:30 pm | Comment

Fat Cat, does this stereotype Australia? : )
http://youtube.com/watch?v=S2PcSJRiJTI

Shulan, the cartoonist’s got it all confused. They are describing what would have happened in another country about 2000 kilometres to the southeast across the Tasman Sea. If they exchange the cute kangaroo and the cuddly koala with a couple of ugly black birds, then the scene will be complete.

(ducking from empty beer cans)

November 18, 2006 @ 6:43 pm | Comment

I see. Don’t even get their stereotyps right, stupid Americans.

November 18, 2006 @ 7:19 pm | Comment

(stuffs sock back in mouth lest Nurse Ratched send him back for more electric-shock treatment)

November 18, 2006 @ 8:14 pm | Comment

Well, if most middle schools in China really are more or less like that (and I believe that’s true), I’m not sure you can say the ad is a “stereotype”. it doesn’t seem overtly negative to me, it’s about the hipness of rebellion against conformity (subtext: and the commodification of that by advertisers).

Question of stereotyping aside, I really thought it was a great ad! Bet it clicks well with young Chinese.

November 19, 2006 @ 2:32 am | Comment

I thought it was a pretty clever advertisement.

November 19, 2006 @ 4:15 am | Comment

I think this ad tells us more about ourselves in the West than it does about China.

Because what would a producer of an ad be looking for, if not something you can identify with -well, hmm, maybe wrong choice of words here, let me correct that to “feel familiar with”- in the first place. So I think his grabbing of some sort of CR setting with all the uniform gray Mao-suits, appeals to a level of knowledge about China that is present in most people, because if there is any period that has been extensively covered in the West in every possible way and from every possible angle, both in word AND image, it must be the Cultural Revolution. And therefore it is useful in ads. Compare it to the way the Scottish are represented in whatever ad may feature them: never any shortage on kilts with those guys.

So stereotype, yes, but in my opinion mostly because the target audience is considered to be most easily hooked by the stereotype (albeit with a little twist).

November 19, 2006 @ 5:00 am | Comment

I don’t mind being in the minority on this one.

“It isn’t a stereotype because there are schools like that in China.” That is like saying it isn’t a stereotype that black people steal because there actually are a lot of black people who steal. Of course there are schools like that in China — and worse. I’ve been to some of them. Although I’ve never seen any where teenagers wear Cultural Revolution era get-ups. My objection (if you can call it that) to the ad is simply that it lazy stereotyping aimed the ignorance of the audience. As Lao Lu said, it is just playing on existing stereotypes of China.

The impression that most people would get from the ad is that China equals North Korea — not any abstruse point about the level of development. To me the overriding impression of the ad is not “China is poor,” but “China is an Orwellian police state,” which is probably why one of my Chinese friends after seeing the ad asked, “Does anyone in the west know anything about China other than the Cultural Revolution?”

November 19, 2006 @ 5:45 am | Comment

@88s: Still, it’s positing a Cultural Revolution style school being undermined by consumerism. Instead of a stereotype, couldn’t we also see the ad as a 30 second history of China’s last 30 years?

Again, the ad never identifies it as China for the uninformed viewer. I think that the ad is ambiguous on stereotypes. A good analogy is if we set the ad in the UK instead, at a Eton type stuffy boarding school. Most Brits don’t attend Eton, but some Americans think it’s all Harry Potter all the time, and the ad would not dispel that idea. But that’s for people who already have that preconceived notion. They are the ones with the stereotype – the ad never says “all Chinese schools are CR era prisons”. The ad simply depicts one school, and if you already think such a thing, it doesn’t challenge you. If the ad were engaging in stereotyping, it would zoom out or cut to other schools across China. It doesn’t, it only depicts one and is silent on whether or not it is typical. Viewers who already believe it is will continue to do so.

I don’t think the ad is expressing a stereotype as much as it doesn’t spend any time dispelling it. The Cultural Revolution was a real event, schools like that did exist at one time, and the ad never claims that this is current or normal in today’s China.

Meanwhile, as I said before, there’s a whole sub-industry of China consultants very aggressively advocating stereotyping when they spew generalized drivel about Chinese collectivism, very real stereotyping of the all dancing and singing Chinese minority, and very real stereotyping of everybody else in the world. These are cases where it is very explicitly stated that a set of characteristics apply to ALL of a people or group. The ad doesn’t do that, it simply doesn’t argue with you if you happen to believe that. And I don’t expect enlightenment to come from an Alberto VO5 ad. Neither should you, 88s.

November 19, 2006 @ 4:02 pm | Comment

I’ve taught in lots of schools in China and I think the ad isn’t that far from reality. I particularly know one “university” in central China, calling itself the “Harvard of the East”, the leadership of which is very proud of their “semi-militaristic management” (I didn’t come up with that term, they did).
As to the argument that the clip depicts China during the CR, that’s complete nonsense. If it was about the CR, we would see that lady teacher being roughed up or even tortured and killed by the students. During the CR, Chinese students didn’t march in line, they went apeshit (excuse my French).
As to the argument that the ad shows China bing similar to North Korea, doesn’t that make sense in a way? I remember Hu Jintao praising Kim Il Jong as a leader not to long ago.
Yes, the ad is playing with stereotypes, Western people have about China. Don’t tell me, commercials using stereotypes is anything new to you!

November 19, 2006 @ 5:30 pm | Comment

88 wrote:

” “It isn’t a stereotype because there are schools like that in China.” That is like saying it isn’t a stereotype that black people steal because there actually are a lot of black people who steal. Of course there are schools like that in China — and worse. I’ve been to some of them. Although I’ve never seen any where teenagers wear Cultural Revolution era get-ups”

88, I can’t agree with you here.

First, why do you think the school scene depicts students wearing CR-era garb? I don’t know about where you live in China, but here in Shanghai, HS and middle school students really do wear uniforms like that (although the colors are different).

Second, this damages your analogy. I’m with you that “blacks steal” is wrong because only a small percentage of them do, and generalizing that to the entire black population is illogical. However, if the school depicted in the ad really *is* typical of the middle school or high school experience of many Chinese kids, then it no longer compares with “blacks steal”. In that sense, it is no more of a stereotype than depicting an American senator as a white male (i.e., almost all of them are).

November 19, 2006 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

@shulan:

So you like to call Americans stupid?

Please explain. Regards,
Ames Tiedeman

As for the commercial stereotyping China: Your own personality and belief system will dictate your point of view on the matter. I will say that in general most stereotypes are poven to be correct. Many may disagree, but then they are just not examining the facts clearly. I will also say that why is it that people love a positive stereotype, but a negative stereotype drives them mad?

November 19, 2006 @ 11:08 pm | Comment

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyb/145473245/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonyb/145473244/

I dont think the clever ad is promoting a stereotype…Yes, there are many such schools in china, mostly in rural areas…
TB

November 20, 2006 @ 10:45 am | Comment

@Ames:

Have you considered the possibility that the term “stupid Americans” we used here is meant to be an expression of endearment? Or does your sense of humour stretch that far?

November 20, 2006 @ 11:25 am | Comment

Ames is right. There is absolutely nothing funny about America. America is deadly serious. Like THIS:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=uao99SN2x_E

November 21, 2006 @ 12:26 am | Comment

Ames is right. There is absolutely nothing funny about America. America is deadly serious. Like THIS:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=uao99SN2x_E

November 21, 2006 @ 12:29 am | Comment

Now we can start a very serious discussion about this video stereotyping people from Arab countries (why are they all wearing turbans) and how it comes that all the members of Team America are white. Shouldn’t there be at least one black person and one of Asian descent to make it 100% politically correct?

November 21, 2006 @ 11:47 am | Comment

So to sum up:

1. Ads use stereotypes and I shouldn’t be surprised by that. I shouldn’t point it out, either.

2. Something isn’t a stereotype if it reflects something that “actually exists” or is “typical.” So, if you see an ad depicting young black men stealing TVs that generally plays into existing stereotypes of young black men, you really shouldn’t think twice about it, because one third of young black men are in prison — that is reality. Same thing with a commercial with Jewish bankers counting coins — there actually are a lot of Jewish bankers and the Jews are one of the richest ethnic groups in the US. So reinforcing existing negative stereotypes of the audience is perfectly normal and justified.

3. Most stereotypes are true. It is just silly and PC to point out stereotypes.

4. China actually is just like North Korea.

Most people seemed to miss my uncomplicated point: 99% of the viewing audience has no conception of what a Chinese school is like. They do have a totally inaccurate and incorrect conception of China, however, which revolves around the Cultural Revolution. When most people see this ad, it will buttress their existing, negative, and out-dated stereotype of China. They see the ad and think: China = North Korea = Cultural Revolution. End of my point.

All points like “But there actually are uniforms like that somewhere in China” and “there actually are teachers like that” have no bearing on my point. I can make an ad of a very typical ghetto scene with crack whores and pimps, too. Whether something is typical or exists has nothing to do whatsoever with whether an ad is aimed at the lazy ignorance of the audience.

I wrote a total 3 sentences about this ad in my post. I didn’t exactly call for a boycott of Mr. Alberto V05. I was just pointing out the way in which I think most of the people viewing this ad would interpret it.

November 22, 2006 @ 3:08 am | Comment

Dear 88,

“1. Ads use stereotypes and I shouldn’t be surprised by that. I shouldn’t point it out, either.”

You shouldn’t be surprised, but there’s nothing wrong with pointing out stereotypes. Actually, thank you very much for pointing out this ad, sharing your opinion about it and starting this interesting conversation! I really mean it, no sarcasm here.

“2. Something isn’t a stereotype if it reflects something that “actually exists” or is “typical.” So, if you see an ad depicting young black men stealing TVs that generally plays into existing stereotypes of young black men, you really shouldn’t think twice about it, because one third of young black men are in prison — that is reality. Same thing with a commercial with Jewish bankers counting coins — there actually are a lot of Jewish bankers and the Jews are one of the richest ethnic groups in the US. So reinforcing existing negative stereotypes of the audience is perfectly normal and justified.”

If somebody said something like: “Chinese people are liars and cheaters.” or made a video clip implying that, your analogies would be spot on. In the case of the commercial we are discussing here, they are out of place.
You say, one third of young black men are in prison. Does that refer to the USA, Africa or the whole world?

“3. Most stereotypes are true. It is just silly and PC to point out stereotypes.”

I think Ames Tiedeman should answer this one.

“4. China actually is just like North Korea.”

Nobody said that.

“Most people seemed to miss my uncomplicated point: 99% of the viewing audience has no conception of what a Chinese school is like. They do have a totally inaccurate and incorrect conception of China, however, which revolves around the Cultural Revolution. When most people see this ad, it will buttress their existing, negative, and out-dated stereotype of China. They see the ad and think: China = North Korea = Cultural Revolution. End of my point.”

You keep talking about the Cultural Revolution. I have to say it again: If that commercial was about the Cultural Revolution, we wouldn’t see students marching in line, we would see them beating the shit out of their teachers.

“All points like “But there actually are uniforms like that somewhere in China” and “there actually are teachers like that” have no bearing on my point. I can make an ad of a very typical ghetto scene with crack whores and pimps, too. Whether something is typical or exists has nothing to do whatsoever with whether an ad is aimed at the lazy ignorance of the audience.”

Yes, you can make that ad of a “typical ghetto scene with crack whores and pimps” and you can make it in China, too. And the reason it exists in China and elsewhere is the “lazy ignorance of the audience”.

“I wrote a total 3 sentences about this ad in my post. I didn’t exactly call for a boycott of Mr. Alberto V05. I was just pointing out the way in which I think most of the people viewing this ad would interpret it.”

I think what triggered off the overwhelming amount of responses was your remark that you felt embarassed watching the commercial. I still want to know, embarassed by what?

November 23, 2006 @ 4:48 am | Comment

> If somebody said something like: “Chinese people are liars and cheaters.”

I think that is a ludicrously high standard of evidence for a stereotype.

>or made a video clip implying that, your analogies would be spot on. In the case of the commercial we are discussing here, they are out of place.

I was pointing out the form of people’s arguments here, not the content. Some were saying that the ad doesn’t promote or include a stereotype because the ad shows things that are typical and actually exist. This is entirely spurious. Whether or not something “exists” or is “typical” has no bearing on whether something is a stereotype. Stereotypes form precisely because some trait exists, is thought to be typical, or actually is typical.

>You keep talking about the Cultural Revolution. I have to say it again: If that commercial was about the Cultural Revolution, we wouldn’t see students marching in line, we would see them beating the shit out of their teachers.

I am talking about audience perception of the ad, not about fine distinctions that ex-pat teachers in Chinese middle schools will make about uniforms, marching in line, or beating teachers. Will the typical viewer of this ad, who has only a vague perception of China, think, “Well, this isn’t the CR, because they aren’t beating the teacher – and I’ve seen school uniforms like that in Anhui — and the scarves are tied wrong for the CR era!?” I don’t think so.

Again, I am simply saying that the overall impression that the typical person (American mainly, since I can’t speak for perceptions of China in Europe, etc.) will get from this ad is: totalitarian China + CR + North Korea. I’ll say it again: even if this ad were a 100% accurate depiction of Chinese schools (and I don’t think it is) it would make no difference to my point. To illustrate this: make an ad of a ghetto scene with wife beatings, muggings, and gang bangers. That could be a 100% accurate depiction of a ghetto. The ad doesn’t have to be saying “all poor people are ‘liars and cheaters’ ” in order to be playing on the pre-existing and negative stereotypes of the audience. The intent of the ad could be just to show a slice of reality. That is fine; however, it will still reinforce a lot of negative stereotypes that the audience holds. (i.e., that is my point). And, no, I’m not claiming this ad is the moral equivalent of that kind of ad; I’m only pointing out the form of argument here.

>”4. China actually is just like North Korea.”
>Nobody said that.

You said this:

“As to the argument that the ad shows China bing similar to North Korea, doesn’t that make sense in a way? I remember Hu Jintao praising Kim Il Jong as a leader not to long ago.”

>embarassed by what?

Maybe that was poor word choice on my part; however, I just thought the ad was embarrassingly bad for the reasons I already outlined.

November 23, 2006 @ 6:00 am | Comment

>I think that is a ludicrously high standard of evidence for a stereotype.

I never said that was my standard of evidence. You brought up the example of “Black people steal.” and I brought up a similar example for which your analogy would work.

>I am talking about audience perception of the ad, not about fine distinctions that ex-pat teachers in Chinese middle schools will make about uniforms, marching in line, or beating teachers.

Right, all these are little details that don’t matter.

>I’ll say it again: even if this ad were a 100% accurate depiction of Chinese schools (and I don’t think it is) it would make no difference to my point.

I agree that the ad is not a 100% accurate depiction of Chinese schools, but I really would like to know why an accurate depiction still wouldn’t make no difference to your point.

>”4. China actually is just like North Korea.”
>Nobody said that.

You said this:

“As to the argument that the ad shows China bing similar to North Korea, doesn’t that make sense in a way? I remember Hu Jintao praising Kim Il Jong as a leader not to long ago.”

Are you seriously saying that my statement is the same as saying “China is like North Korea.”?

Maybe that ad isn’t really worth getting worked up about it. I actually like your blog a lot.

November 26, 2006 @ 12:10 am | Comment

>>I never said that was my standard of evidence. You brought up the example of “Black people steal.” and I brought up a similar example for which your analogy would work.

Why does the content of the analogy have to be similar for the analogy to work? The reason I used “black people steal” was simply because it makes the form of argument painfully clear.

>Right, all these are little details that don’t matter.

To 99% of the audience, no, they don’t. Because 99% of the audience can’t make those distinctions.

>but I really would like to know why an accurate depiction still wouldn’t make no difference to your point.

I’m not sure how else I can explain that. Can you have an accurate depiction of something that still plays in to people’s stereotypes? Sure, you can. I gave a lot of examples of this in the comments above.

>>Are you seriously saying that my statement is the same as saying “China is like North Korea.”?

uh, yes. Wasn’t that your implication?

>>Maybe that ad isn’t really worth getting worked up about it. I actually like your blog a lot.

I’m not worked up about it. Sorry if I come across that way. Anyway, hopefully we can disagree and debate and you can still like my blog. ๐Ÿ˜‰

November 26, 2006 @ 12:57 am | Comment

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