Absurd racism claim and attacks on Chinese culture

| February 21st, 2013

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This year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit was photographed internationally in eight locals and included local flavor of each local. As such, it has been accused of racism by some notable bloggers, and the story has spread into mainstream media outlets.

The claims of racism go to such absurd lengths as to actually denigrate minority culture in China. Jessica Gomes was photographed standing with some members of a minority ethnic group in Guilin wearing traditional attire. Anne V was photographed on a raft on the Li River guided by a Chinese person.

Dodai Stewart at Jezebel thinks that the Chinese people look “quaint, backward and impoverished.” By included photos of minorities in their traditional attire or of raft guides, they “cement(ing) stereotypes, perpetuat(ing) an imbalance in the power dynamic.” Why didn’t China include some of the skyscrapers and “modern cities that make New York look rickety” where ancient hutongs are being knocked down to make way for restaurant and bar streets?

For Stewart’s argument to make sense, you have to make a terribly closed-minded value judgment on the relative value of minority traditions versus modernization. The photos can only be viewed as racist if they are portraying one race in a negative light in comparison to the model. How is it that the local Guilin people are being harmfully misrepresented wearing the same clothing that they have worn for hundreds of years and still wear today?

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There’s nothing shameful about the minority people’s heritage and culture. The only problem with the photo is that the caption doesn’t say what minority is represented. China has 56 government-recognized ethnic groups, with the Han majority making up 91% of the population. Minority ethnic groups are referred to as 少数民族 (shao shu min zu),and their traditions and culture are a national treasure in China that should be encouraged and protected. Having traveled through Guizhou, Yunnan, and Xinjiang, where there are large concentrations of minority ethnic groups, I have found that architecture, attire, cuisine, and other cultural aspects of China’s 55 minority groups are some of the most beautiful things in the country, which is probably why Sports Illustrated decided to include them in some of the photos.

The Li River and the karst mountains in its midst are also some of the most beautiful things in China, which is why they used that backdrop for some photos. But why is there a Chinese person guiding the raft the model is riding? According to Stewart, it creates the image of,“A white person relaxing, a person of color working. Tale as old as time. A non-white person in the service of a white person.”

Would Stewart rather have had a white person do the work and put the Chinese guy out of a pay day? Having been to Guilin, I know first hand that the people who guide tours down the Li River are all Chinese. A Chinese person guided the boat that I was on. The vast majority of people who live in China are Chinese, so it’s only natural that Chinese people would get the jobs as guides.

Once again, this attack on Sports Illustrated comes back to a feeling of pity Stewart feels on the Chinese subject. He’s so poor. “They didn’t have to use a dude with dental issues on a river raft,” Stewart wrote.

It’s unclear whether Sports Illustrated made dental health a qualification for the guide in the photo shoot, but dental health is certainly not a qualification for being a good raft guide. It all comes back to the fact that Stewart is uncomfortable seeing some indications of the poverty of China’s countryside.

Her major criticisms of the photo shoot come down to claims that it makes China–and the other locals–look poor compared to the West when each of the locals she mentioned also includes examples of bustling cities. She wants us to look at the cities and ignore the realities of daily life for hundreds of millions who have been left behind by China’s economic growth.

She wants to whitewash the truth. The fact is, while government investment in China has largely been focused on Eastern megacities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, the majority of the population living in the countryside still hasn’t been so blessed. Students in poor provinces where the government has spent little on education have to bring their own desks to school. Small and unsafe school buses crash in rural China killing students due to overcrowding, while advanced buses with safety features are reserved for transporting teachers.

But let’s forget the truth. Just take a picture in front of the Shanghai World Financial Center and talk about how all Chinese are doing great. China is doing much better since it reformed its economy, but it hasn’t caught up to America or Europe, not even for the Chinese middle class.

There’s nothing shameful about guiding a raft down the Li River. It’s an important job for the tourism economy in the region, and it’s obviously necessary for the photo.

The idea of including local culture produced more interesting photos than would have been produced with models standing in front of the Apple Store in Century Avenue in Shanghai or the Uniqlo store in multinational brand mall on the “refurbished” Qianmen Street in Beijing.

Photos shot in Africa:

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in Spain:

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44 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. KL says:

    The real problem is that the official image of minorities in China (CCTV programs, two assemblies…) is the fake one; most are just chinese or quite sinicized minority people (whity, teethy, make up dolls…) in minorities’ traditional robes… a travesti.

    • popo says:

      Well, to be fair: There are just as many photos in the media these days of Detroit slums as there are of remote, rural destinations. Americans are quite good at pointing the camera at themselves and being critical.

      America is falling to pieces, and the American population is mostly uneducated and obese. These images don’t go un-photographed.

      • elenore says:

        Detroit died because we built a new city in a ring around the old one to get away from uneducated illiterate migrants from the south,after they had a racial riots with each other,3 of them. They call them suburbs but that is inaccurate. Over 4 million people live around the Old city of Detroit,which has only 700,000 people.The Metro-Detroit is one of the most racially and religiously diverse regions in America. I live here. Besides the downtown of Detroit, the rest of Old Detroit is just crap housing build by the federal government for migrant southern workers who came for military War manufacturing.

        • Ugh says:

          Wrong. Detroit dies because the liberals taxed the auto makers to the point of them leaving the US for good. When the auto industry left, so did Detroit’s chance to ever be a prosperous city again.

          There are direct correlations between a cities debt and it’s liberal policy, the more liberal, the more broke it is.

          California, New York, Chicago IL, Detroit MI, etc, etc, all liberal, all broke, all suffering from crippling crime rates.

          What brain dead liberals refuse to learn is the tighter you squeeze, the more that slips through your fingers.

      • Ugh says:

        Exaggerate much?

  2. Fabbab says:

    So now Sports Illustrated was making a serious political statement! How daft of us to think those photos are ridiculous at best. Thank you for pointing us to the obvious truth.

  3. Trogg says:

    Westerners are finally calling out the rampant racist views they hold.

  4. voiceofhomer says:

    Most Amerikans and Canadians think that that is how it is in China.

    So what’s another few more pics gonna do to, it won’t change what they believe is what they believe.

  5. TRUTH BE TOLD says:

    Westerners cannot cope with the fact that soon China will take over. So their minds and imagination keep them forever safe in the days of old.

    • Angelus88 says:

      it’s a curve init? There is no power on earth that has held forever. China held great power once, and fell. etc etc

  6. Mirdad says:

    Why not highlight the local culture by having the bikini models push the Chinese people around in rickshaws and paddle their boats while the locals lounge around idly sipping tea?

    • Art of War says:

      lol……….
      Yunnan and Guangxi are very scenic places in China. I hope to visit both these provinces on my next trip to China. From what I’ve read, Yunnan is a tourist magnet for Westerners as the lifestyle there is relaxing, inexpensive, highlights nature and the local culture. It is a lot like Thailand in that regard, attractive to Westerners as a tourist hub. I think the main reason why underdeveloped areas like Yunnan are popular amongst Westerners is because of cost, much like how Mexico and Thailand are popular. The hyperinflation in China has been getting worse, the cost of living in many places are skyrocketing. I know as a tourist, I wouldn’t like to have prolonged visits to expensive cities, regardless of its racial make-up.

  7. Random Person says:

    Really? It’s absurd? I find that these pictures aren’t trying to be racist, but they are using ethnic minorities as BACKGROUNDS to white women. They are seen as props and not humans, which is the problem. Most of the pictures are of the minorities meekly serving the white woman.

    You might not agree but if I stood in front of a house with a white picket fence with a two child blonde hair, blue eyed family behind me preparing lemonade, I’m not only evoking stereotypes, I’m dehumanizing them. Some people do have a life like that but the majority don’t. These pictures only capture what white Americans think of when they envision other countries. Can you say most Spanish people are bullfighters or most Chinese still row boats? NO. I’m all for capturing the nuances of different countries but they only show one image, mostly outdated.

    Good thing this is Sport’s Ilustrated and no one will pay attention to anything but boobs

    • Alejandro says:

      A picture with bullfighters reperesenting Spain… So racist! unacceptable! denigrating!!!

      a sarcastic Spanish

    • Hutch says:

      Actually, they do still row boats and fish with the birds as presented in the picture. I saw it with my own eyes last year, not on a tour, but just exploring the area alone – the same area where the photos were taken. Your points are extremely misguided and highlight the fact that you have never been to the region you are speaking so aggressively about to make some point that is far from correct.

  8. voiceofhomer says:

    BBC and a lot of westerners love to see slums in China and India, that’s what they paid to go see there.

    Westerners love to visit old ancient hutongs and city slums when the go to China, it’s the best things there to make them feel good about themselves.

    And the really old villages in the mountains and valleys or in the far away places in China that are without indoor toilets are the high points of their China tour.

    • bomber says:

      Dude, you suck. Most western travelers are simply novelty junkies. The ones that travel to the less well-tread places have generally already been to Europe and are familiar with what a modern, wealthy city looks like.

      Perhaps we all should ask your permission when we want to visit a place with a lower GDP than our home countries. You could screen us for our intentions and potential for ego-driven voyeurism.

      It’s lamentable, though not surprising, that you’re a walking stereotype in that you think everyone cares as much about money (and that money gives “face” lol!) as much as you do. Get over yourself. No amount of righteous bitching on the intarwebs is going to make people think Confucian civilization has something to offer mankind.

      • voiceofhomer says:

        Yo BSer, do Chinese go to see Harmlum or the Amerikan slums?

        No they go to see the the pres in DC or to see the tall buildings of NYC or to see the Golden Gate bridge or to eat at the Riz or the see the stupid clock at the London Tower or to shop at the most expensive stores or to see rich movie stars.

        Not many China men will go to see the slums in the west like the westerners do in China.

        • a-ron says:

          that’s because the chinese are scared to not go into populated places and will only go to hackeneyed places to take pictures, so they can talk about it later.
          Chinese people are just like white people: superficial. Han Chinese are the white americans of east asia. They also want to visit big cities like us because they’re all the same
          Living in China, I can tell you: why does every trip have to be to a big city? So you can go to starbucks and do some shopping? What’s the point of even leaving home then? I applaud them for going out to Guilin and southern China. They han chinese are marginalizing them as it is and trying to copy an American standard of life.
          The natural backdrops of the south are way more picturesque than the Haze clouds of a 1000 PM 2.5 day in Beijing.
          Just sayin…

    • Anne says:

      As someone who grew up in the west…(I’m a Canadian from Hong Kong)

      Slums and ancient buildings are considered real, as opposed to fake and generic (modern) – a modern Chinese building might have little difference than any modern building in the world, what’s the point?

      When I finally get to visit England someday, I don’t want to see their financial district with the rich tall GENERIC buildings, I want to go to somewhere rural, where there are still craftsman working with their hands and fisherman catching and selling fishes. I want to have my meal at a shanty shack that has been in business for centuries over some shiny modern generic thing.

      I like how the fisherman can be their own bosses, and that the bed and breakfast will be owned locally, and the one who owns it is the one who does the work – as someone who lives in a modern city – I envy them for this. I don’t get to own my own work. I probably get paid more as a paper pusher, WHEN I’m employed, but I’m dependent on someone to hire me, I’m dependent on not being blacklisted (not being tagged in a facebook photo where I MIGHT be drinking), I don’t get to go door to door. I’m mildly depressed that I might be useless because I’m not actually /producing/ anything when I work, and I don’t see results.

      I think the cost of living is also higher where I am.

      But I have more political security. The countryside have better air and fresh food, but the people in the Chinese countryside seem to get their lands seized all the time in the news. In the /English/ seaside, girls disappear into trafficking rings, the local police in Blackpool is useless.

  9. WORD says:

    Let’s face facts; Whites are racist.

    • katia-de says:

      Yup. Whites are racist, and so are blacks, yellows and browns.
      Whites had slavery and were enslaved by (brown) Arabs, blacks had slavery and were enslaved by Arabs and whites; yellows also had slavery and were enslaved.
      If you talk about being racists why don’ t we talk about racist expressions in Chinese for whites or racist expression in Arabic for blacks and the treatment of the blacks in Arabia or in China?
      But hey, politically correct people like to say that only white are racist. ROTFL
      And yes, Westerners like to visit villages in China and Chinese like to build old Austrian cities in China. Does the building of medieval Austrian city in China count as racist? After all the city is OLD, therefore using your logic, building a replica of the city means that Chinese think that they are modern and Austrian people are backwards. And that it racist, isn’t it?

      Some people make mountains out of molehills.

      • Maitiu says:

        Stop bringing logic into it. Just get with the dominate narrative. The only racist people to ever exist are whites, and no other race has ever been aggressive or warlike (Ghengis Khan never existed… or if he did, he must have been white. Same with the Imperial Japanese).

    • bomber says:

      Define “white”

  10. Vantes says:

    Please do not generalize certain aspects of American culture as being “western”. These pictures are idiotic, shameful and clearly the product of a delusional and utterly deprived mind.

    • katia-de says:

      Now you are being silly. American culture IS a western culture. If you don’t like some aspects of that culture….. tough luck.

  11. voiceofhomer says:

    A Beijing restaurant is refusing to serve customers from three Asian neighbours currently involved in simmering maritime disputes with China.

    The Beijing Snacks restaurant posted a notice saying that Japanese, Filipino and Vietnamese patrons are not welcome – and neither are dogs.
    ———————————————————————————————–

    Stupid Chinese restaurant, they should have also included NO westerners like whiteys and blacks.

    And some Indians and Arabs too.

    • Alejandro says:

      And your comment is not racist since you are not targeting Chinese people! clever!

      • voiceofhomer says:

        CCTV News broadcast live footage of the four men being taken from their cells to the execution site, though it did not show the moment of death.

        Many social media users in China have reacted angrily, condemning the broadcast as insensitive.

        It is believed to be the first time in China’s recent history that live footage of condemned criminals being taken to their execution has been broadcast.

        Since CCTV is controlled by the Chinese authorities, there is no doubt that the green light was given by top government officials, the editor of BBC Chinese, Raymond Li, reports.

        It seems that the Chinese government wants to send out a clear signal to the general public that they are taking very tough action against foreign criminals, he adds.

        Some have applauded the move, but many Chinese internet users spoke out against the special programme, in what some are saying was a throw-back to the execution rallies of China’s past.
        ——————————————————————————————————————–

        A racist report on China and by foreigners in China.

        Racist people always targeting Chinese people.

        Ever see Chinese doctors or pres or men of power on Canadian TV, never.

  12. huzhang says:

    Chinese man here. I don’t give a shit about this.

    Everything is racist these days. Oversensitivity is a far bigger problem, as it leads to liberalism and emotion-based thinking. Fuck that shit. It has no place outside of the West.

  13. FPPH says:

    I am a Chinese and a photographer. I find the photographs of good taste and nicely done and the topic is swimwear. The opinion from Ms. Dodai Stewart on the photographs seems like a personal problem to me with an intention to stir up more issues so that she can have more public explosure. Any white woman who visited Li Jiang (River), pay that guy RMB100 would ended up getting a similiar setting for photograph… I can’t understand Ms. Stewart’s issue; does any white person stands in front of a non-white in any photograph means racist to her?

  14. HellO says:

    “Han majority make up 91% of the population”

    Genetically speaking, Han people only make up about 50% the population of China, as most “Han people” in China are actually assimilated and culturally sinicized ethnic minorities from semi-nomadic and nomadic tribes who themselves were lured into less primitive agrarian and cultured high-life for generations.

    But even those who claim to be “direct descendants” of Xuanyuan Gongsun Huangdi have mostly become reintegrated with their primitive nomadic ancestors throughout 5000 years of Chinese history: Xuanyuan and Shennong developed agrarian lifestyle and required all men to know who their children are, and all children to know who their fathers are (no f**king and forgetting), but then they assimilated elements of the Dongyi and Rong nomadic peoples. The Xia Dynasty was overthrown and some Xia loyalists fled the Shang Empire to rejoin their nomadic cousins, only to rejoin their agrarian Han cousins again as Hun people during the Han Dynasty………… this process would continuously play out for the next 3000 years of Chinese history. But since all these people, Hans, Huns, Rong, Di, Xianbei, Dingling, etc, etc, were all Mongoloid type people, we pretty much all look like Mongol types anyways.

  15. Bilbo says:

    My wife is from China and let me say that there is extreme poverty in that country. Many people have jobs we wouldn’t even consider, but they are proud and happy to be working. I think everyone is making way to big a deal of these photos and need to lighten up.

  16. Noah Body says:

    Jessica Gomes is half-Chinese, so I guess her photo was only being half-racist. :-/

  17. Archie says:

    Honestly… who the hell cares what sports illustrated publishes? The photos are not doing anyone any harm. I suppose the Spanish Matadors are also crying into their pillows at night about such ‘racism’?

    …or are they thinking ‘Oh remember that time when the Sports Illustrated team came for some photos? There was that beautiful woman, and they paid us well for it and gave us lunch. That was a pretty cool day overall. Wish they’d come back’.

    No-one in the photos is offended, mistreated or falsely projected. They are there of their own free will. Get back to your ethically-sourced Ethiopian latte and stop giving your opinion.

    *gets back to ethically-sourced latte*

  18. voiceofhomer says:

    Italy racism flares at 1st black cabinet minister.

    Government authorizes investigation into neo-fascist websites.

    It was hailed as a giant step forward for racial integration in a country that has long been ill at ease with its growing immigrant classes. But Cecile Kyenge’s appointment as Italy’s first black cabinet minister has instead exposed the nation’s ugly race problem, a blight that flares regularly on the soccer pitch with racist taunts and in the diatribes of xenophobic politicians — but has now raised its head at the centre of political life.

    One politician from a party that not long ago ruled in a coalition derided what he called Italy’s new “bonga bonga government.” On Wednesday, amid increasing revulsion over the reaction, the government authorized an investigation into neo-fascist websites whose members called Kyenge “Congolese monkey” and other epithets.

    Kyenge, 48, was born in Congo and moved to Italy three decades ago to study medicine but never left or have gone home and stayed in Italy.
    ———————————————————————————————————————————–

    Just like the Cantonese monkeys in China, they are not going home on their own.

    Dumbass Chinese govt officials taking bribes to let these black monkeys stay in an all Chinaman commie country.

    Wait until some monkey like Obama takes over China and see the errors of their ways but that will be too late for the rest us yellow belly China men.

  19. babo says:

    I could not care less

    I bet you 90% of the people who think this is racist are white liberals who talk about “social justice” all day

    Sorry, people in China live in the real world.

  20. voiceofhomer says:

    Canada’s controversial census survey shows there are more foreign-born people in the country than ever before, at a proportion not seen in almost a century.

    They’re young, they’re suburban, and they’re mainly from Asia.

    China and Hong Kong as the source countries.

    At the same time, immigration patterns have led to growth in the numbers of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist worshippers.
    ————————————————————————————————————————

    Wow them Chinese screwing the Canadian way of life with the growth in the numbers of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist worshippers.

    Are they talking about Muslims, Indians, Tibetans, Amerikans, Arabs and Afrikans, just maybe?

  21. trogg says:

    Whites cannot face the facts that their world is crumbling and their race being decimated by race mixing. Wont be long now.

  22. Frank says:

    what a shit! My 1st time to read such shit.

    Anyone who describe some population as monkeys are full of shit in their brains.

    Go to ur toilet and eat ur shit

    voiceofhomer says:
    2013/05/01 at 10:06 pm

    Italy racism flares at 1st black cabinet minister.

    Government authorizes investigation into neo-fascist websites.

    It was hailed as a giant step forward for racial integration in a country that has long been ill at ease with its growing immigrant classes. But Cecile Kyenge’s appointment as Italy’s first black cabinet minister has instead exposed the nation’s ugly race problem, a blight that flares regularly on the soccer pitch with racist taunts and in the diatribes of xenophobic politicians — but has now raised its head at the centre of political life.

    One politician from a party that not long ago ruled in a coalition derided what he called Italy’s new “bonga bonga government.” On Wednesday, amid increasing revulsion over the reaction, the government authorized an investigation into neo-fascist websites whose members called Kyenge “Congolese monkey” and other epithets.

    Kyenge, 48, was born in Congo and moved to Italy three decades ago to study medicine but never left or have gone home and stayed in Italy.
    ———————————————————————————————————————————–

    Just like the Cantonese monkeys in China, they are not going home on their own.

    Dumbass Chinese govt officials taking bribes to let these black monkeys stay in an all Chinaman commie country.

    Wait until some monkey like Obama takes over China and see the errors of their ways but that will be too late for the rest us yellow belly China men.

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