/“Racism for Sale” Investigation Rekindles Debate Over Exploitation in China-Africa Relationship – China Digital Times (CDT)

“Racism for Sale” Investigation Rekindles Debate Over Exploitation in China-Africa Relationship – China Digital Times (CDT)

This week, BBC Africa Eye released a documentary titled “,” an investigation by Runako Celina and Henry Mhango into the Chinese video-making industry built on the exploitation of vulnerable Africans. Celina and Mhango traveled to a village in Malawi to track down the Chinese producer of , in which young African children are made to repeat the lines: “I am a Black devil. I have a very low IQ. Yeah!” Videos like these are part of , with some agents recording , as the customers in China who commission them seek entertainment or diversion. But their , newly exposed by the BBC, have outraged both African and Chinese netizens who now demand accountability.

The BBC investigation uncovered an behind the creation of these videos. Interviews with dozens of Malawians revealed that the video producer, Lu Ke (known in the village as “Susu,” or “Uncle”), incentivized the children to skip school in order to make the videos, paid them less than one US dollar per day while he earned tens of thousands of dollars himself, and even beat them if they made mistakes. The children, some as young as three years old, did not understand what they were saying in Chinese, nor were they learning the language, contrary to Lu Ke’s claims. In an undercover meeting, he openly shared racist views about Africans, and offered advice such as “No matter their family situation, never pity them.”

and as commodities that can be made to sing and dance for profit.” the ‘his’ in question is the chinese man behind the operation who goes by ‘susu’, presumably bc 叔叔 is mandarin for uncle. 3/

— Aurora Chang 張瓊方 🌻 (@aurorachaang) June 14, 2022

claiming that he likes them and doesn’t mistreat the kids. here are screenshots of a conversation between susu and bbc’s undercover chinese guy who posed as a businessman, where it’s clear that susu is unequivocally a) a racist and b) exploiting the children for the videos. 5/ pic.twitter.com/cgYnnkWngz

— Aurora Chang 張瓊方 🌻 (@aurorachaang) June 14, 2022

essentially had these children making racist degrading content without their informed consent, and had the gall to lie to runako’s face when interviewed, denying that he was racist or profiting off the videos. 10/ pic.twitter.com/ANtwgXAWaT

— Aurora Chang 張瓊方 🌻 (@aurorachaang) June 14, 2022

Malawian officials have expressed their indignation and vowed to take action. Minister of Foreign Affairs Nancy Tembo said she was “.” In a press conference on Monday, she stated: “. Not in this era and certainly not on our land. […] Our children deserve better.” Minister of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati stated: “The director of child affairs is already on the ground investigating the matter. .” On Monday, .

As regards the “Racism for Sale” – investigative documentary on BBC News Africa, we are feeling disgusted, disrespected and deeply pained.

I addressed the matter during today’s #GovernmentFacesThePress session in Lilongwe.

Watch short video clip below for details. #Malawi pic.twitter.com/4F2rPaQRfS

— Nancy Tembo, MP. (@nancygtembo) June 13, 2022

Malawian civil society groups were the most vocal in speaking out, and some were dissatisfied by the government response. Sylvester Namiwa, executive director of the Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI), said “,” and warned against “any attempts to downplay the issue or help the suspect to beat the long arm of the law.” In local outlet Malawi Voice, Iommie Chiwalo reported on

[A]ccording to CDED’s investigations, the suspect, who, reportedly, was previously charged with human trafficking offences, is no longer in the country.

[…] CDEDI has therefore given authorities seven (7) working days to bring to book Mr. Lu Ke and that if the suspect has really bolted as feared, the onus is on the Chinese Government to bring him back to Malawi to face the law.

[… Namiwa] has also demanded that the Chinese Ambassador must make a public apology to Malawians, in particular the black community.

Additionally, the CDEDI boss has given state agencies such as the Immigration Department, the Malawi Police Service and the Malawi Trade and Investment Centre 48 hours to flush out all Chinese nationals staying or doing business in the country illegally. []

Thursday, June 16, happened to be the International Day of the African Child, whose theme this year is “.” The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) released a that day that explicitly chastised Lu Ke for “exploiting vulnerable children locally to produce racist videos,” and called on the Malawian government to “swiftly investigate and prosecute those involved in this violation.” In local Malawian outlet The Nation, Lloyd Chitsulo described

University of Malawi Child Rights Legal Clinic under the [University of Malawi] Faculty of Law yesterday described the video as disgusting and further said they expect authorities to use relevant laws to ensure appropriate remedies are applied to the damage done to the children.

[…] “We expect the State of Malawi in line with its duties under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its own laws to ensure that the State of China takes measures to remedy the damage done to the children in the video and undertake that its nationals will not engage in such racist, exploitative and degrading actions against the children of Malawi.”

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has urged relevant authorities to do a thorough assessment of the facts exposed by the documentary and seek further information to establish the full extent of child rights violations. []

As pressure mounted and progress stalled, some groups decided to take action into their own hands. On Thursday, Child Rights Legal Clinic supervisor Garton Kamchedzera announced , “starting from Njerwa where the exploitation took place and [ending] at the Chinese Embassy, where we will deliver a petition to Chinese authorities in Malawi.” On Friday, the MHRC announced it was launching its own investigation, criticizing both Lu Ke and the Malawian government for failing to respond two years ago when the “black devil” video first emerged.

EXPLOITATION BY A CHINESE [email protected] @Times360Malawi @MBCNewsLive @yoneco3 @CapitalFMMw @NationOnlineMw @Mzimba_Radio @OnlineMij @timvenionline @MwNewsAgency pic.twitter.com/qwUuRHFzWJ

— Malawi Human Rights Commission (@HumanRightsMW) June 17, 2022

The collective outrage was picked up by media outlets in Malawi and . Local outlet Malawi 24 cited its own Twitter poll suggesting that , and the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation ran multiple . Beyond Malawi, Kenyan outlet The Standard published :

That is unacceptable. China is our development partner, but its citizens in Africa must be guided by the laws of their host countries. In Kenya, for instance, our laws emphasise zero tolerance to discrimination and segregation. Any foreigner who does not respect our sovereignty and abuses Africans must face the full wrath of the law, not deportation. We must stop treating Chinese monsters with kid gloves.

Racist and dehumanising treatment have no place in today’s world. Africans might be poor, but we hold our heads high. What separates us and the Chinese is the colour of our skins and geographical locations.

African governments must stamp their feet down and say no to such misconduct. Any allegations of racism must never be brushed aside […] The law must be applied mercilessly on those found culpable. Failure to do so will only embolden more barbaric racial bigots from the Orient. []

#TheDailyTimes front page: It has emerged that China national Lu Ke, commonly known as Shu Shu— who was exposed for exploiting children in Njewa area, Lilongwe, through videos— has not been to the community since Friday last week.https://t.co/MGGDqYsdAm pic.twitter.com/JAHAgPTn8l

— Times 360 Malawi (@Times360Malawi) June 16, 2022

What should Malawi do with the racist Chinese immigrant shooting racist videos of Malawians while exploiting children as caricatures?

More Chinese immigrants shooting racist videos: https://t.co/YqtbRMk3Vf

China says racist video was shot in 2020: https://t.co/HQtYyLsnh1

— Malawi24 (@Malawi24) June 14, 2022

A racist video of African children made by a Chinese man living in Malawi has made headlines. The video sparked a wave of anger. Many Africans have criticised the dehumanising video and its worrying representation of racist attitudes held by Chinese peoplehttps://t.co/UTezM3IoXF pic.twitter.com/ozcYiaSpmB

— This Is Africa (@ThisIsAfricaTIA) June 17, 2022

Emmanuel Mwanyongo: As a Malawian, it’s very painful to watch this documentary. It’s high time Africa and its leaders rose up and defended our dignity.

Andrew Inglis: As Malawian its really disheartening to watch this  😭😭 These kids deserve Justice

John Chapola: As a Malawian this has hurt me deeply, to ask these children to say that and take these videos for profit is quite shocking. I hope justice is served for these kids.

Natalya Mariette: As a Malawian I am deeply disturbed and heartbroken at the fact that someone comes here pretending to help these beautiful kids and ends up exploiting them,demeaning them and abusing them verbally and physically just because they’re African and poor? This is so heartbreaking, I’m at a loss for words.

Ernest Sebastian: As a Malawian citizen, I am in tears… I can’t believe this is happening in broad daylight without us saying a word. And somebody had to come all the way from a very far country just to educate us on this??

254 short trendy stories: As an African living in China I totally agree with the issues raised on this documentary,it’s really disgusting and saddening that most of us have aired these concerns in the Chinese media but still ignored,ridiculed more and most of all labeled all sorts of racist slurs especially on (douyin) a Chinese media platform same as TikTok.i applaud these journalists who took that step to travel all the way there and Shame the devil .👍🏾

roman shao: As an African living in china this video is so devastating and it’s high time for us as  African to stand up and work for the goods of our continent .. there’s no one from outside Africa that will come to help and save us. []

Some Malawians on social media also directed their anger towards their own government. One journalist for reacting too slowly compared to other less explosive cases. Another journalist that the Malawian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after being inactive on Twitter since June 2, tweeted on Wednesday not about the incident but about a Chinese scholarship opportunity, one day after the Foreign Minister . Netizen comments under the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation’s Facebook post sharing the documentary :

Cee Captain Cee Sparrow: It takes a British Broadcasting corporation to find out this bad behaviour happening in our own country while MBC is busy doing the propaganda 

Evance Shawa: So pathetic and disgusting knowing that our local journalists failed us to the point that we’re hearing this kind of thing from foreign reports

Vincent Alfred: Such people deserve stiffer punishment. I would be very disappointed if these guys are still enjoying fresh air out there 😡😡😡

Luke Wa Chimwaza: Immediate action needed.

Azeze Soko: He must be arrested, sentenced and imprisoned before deportation []

In China, the BBC documentary garnered a notable amount of sympathy from netizens. Some were and . One Weibo user : “For this kind of issue, discussion is a positive thing, because it gives people a clearer understanding of racial issues, China-Africa relations, and the role of Europe and the United States. It also makes them realize that they need to accept responsibility. Burying our heads in the sand isn’t conducive to raising awareness or avoiding such odious incidents in the future, for these incidents harm the relationship and hurt people’s feelings on both sides.” Popular science writer and noted “debunker” Fang Shimin tweeted about China’s “perverse industry” shown in the BBC documentary, and many Chinese comments, translated by CDT, :

@Larry04400765: At first glance, this kind of video makes people uncomfortable, but the fact that it was able to develop into a mass-production industry is truly ignorant and in terrible taste.

@YW64279938: More injurious even than the .

@YifeiPei: A few days ago, I saw that someone reposted this video, but I didn’t dare to click on it. I watched it today and it made me so furious I cried.

@AachenHugo: China is so big, there is nothing too bizarre! The explosive news of this incident will have serious consequences and negatively impact perceptions of China among Africans and people of African descent. I predict that the long-vaunted Sino-African friendship will, at least at the grassroots level, completely collapse!

Put it this way: China is a country with very serious problems of regional discrimination, ethnic discrimination, and racial discrimination, especially towards Black people. They are considered “inferior human beings” in the minds of many Chinese people, and some Chinese people even feel that they should be eradicated. []

But not everyone was ready to condemn racism. alleged that the BBC had fabricated the story, and that Lu Ke had a Taiwanese accent. Other comments, translated by CDT, highlighted how and to instead challenge the credibility of the documentary. Some linked this deflection to the misogyny behind the on Chinese social media.

Yang-Xuanying玄英闲人: What if it BBC produced [that video] itself? Peddling its own inventions. // 数知实验室: That possibility hasn’t been ruled out. If that is the case, we need to clarify the situation before we can fight back.

欺詐師_狸貓: Most of the comments below still don’t take this matter seriously, and are complacent, content to let chauvinism run rampant. Sooner or later, we’ll lose even the principles on which our nation was founded, those words written on Tiananmen Gate. [“” 世界人民大团结万岁, Shìjiè rénmín dàtuánjié wànsuì.]

到荒野去: The comments section is a good illustration of the adverse consequences of rampant male chauvinism in East Asia. Not only do Chinese men regard women as their own private property, they also imagine that black men might want to steal these marital and reproductive “resources.” The reality that these [Chinese] men need to face up to is that women have freedom over their own bodies, including the freedom to choose whether or not to have children. Chinese men’s hatred of black people is actually a fear brought about by natural differences in people’s reproductive organs.

Metapoesia_: You can see from the comments that there is a high probability that Chinese people [made these videos] themselves, and are proud of their prejudice. []

While Chinese media remained silent, Chinese officials attempted, unsuccessfully, to quell the anger. On Monday, the Chinese embassy in Malawi its concern and condemnation of racism, but “also noted that the video was shot in 2020,” and the Chinese ambassador to South Africa tweeted that China-Africa relations “” (referring to the documentary). The Chinese embassy in Malawi released a brief, official statement on Thursday further distancing itself, stating: “.” These messages incited a wave of online criticism arguing that China was deflecting responsibility. 

Excuse me? Does racism and child exploitation have an expiry date? https://t.co/NIuJKlFkvg

Your zero tolerance is noted but….what are you going to do about it? What’s going to happen to your citizen Lu Ke? And what has the video being shot in 2020 got to do with it?

— Khadija • 🇲🇼 🇿🇼 🇿🇦 • 🇯🇴 (@KS_Mussa) June 13, 2022

Wu Peng, the Director-General of African Affairs at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that “China has been cracking down on those unlawful online acts in the past yrs,” and further that “Shortly after the video first appeared early 2020, Chinese relevant authority was very concerned& immediately urged the platforms to remove it and to punish the video maker.” and chimed in to reiterate Wu’s claim about China’s zero tolerance for racism. But South China Morning Post’s Jevans Nyabiage reported suggestions from other quarters that

Heidi Haugen, professor of China studies at the department of culture studies and Oriental languages at the University of Oslo, said the Chinese government had not done enough to crack down on the videos since Chinese censorship apparatus knew about them for years. They had been suppressed in the past on some platforms, only to crop up on other platforms.

“If the political resolve is there, offensive content is removed from all platforms, permanently. The Weibo account with these videos was devoted solely to racist jokes, it was easily identifiable,” Haugen said. “But cracking down on such offensive videos has not been a priority.”

Haugen said the foreign ministry was wise to take this seriously now while it severely harmed China’s image abroad. []

Given Beijing’s efforts to strongly criticise & denounce BBC reporting in recent years, quite something to see diplomats scrambling like this in response to a BBC report: pic.twitter.com/EKAzUvW0Qi

— Bill Birtles (@billbirtles) June 15, 2022

If anything, Chinese authorities appear to have censored discussion of the controversy instead of censoring the videos themselves, which are still thriving online, as Wenhao of VOA News described in a Twitter thread:

This would be considered a nice response from China’s diplomat regarding the recent BBC documentary about Chinese individuals exploiting African kids by making videos of them for Chinese clients, if you don’t know that China is also censoring the BBC documentary on social media. pic.twitter.com/xcRYTx1ZCz

— Wenhao (@ThisIsWenhao) June 15, 2022

Now only a 36 seconds long promo for the documentary can be found on Weibo. pic.twitter.com/cDlx8CDIp4

— Wenhao (@ThisIsWenhao) June 15, 2022

And business looks pretty good for them. pic.twitter.com/YyqimfWm5O

— Wenhao (@ThisIsWenhao) June 15, 2022

But if you read costumer reviews…yeah, they are actually selling videos of Africans. pic.twitter.com/tX1KIcwleU

— Wenhao (@ThisIsWenhao) June 16, 2022

In another Twitter thread, Alexandria Williams of DW News described how there is an algorithmic incentive to sustain this industry of racist videos:

2/12 There’s a huge financial aspect to all of this for the short video company itself. Chinese short video apps earn money from ads, tips, and livestream gifts given to creators.

— Alexandria Sahai Williams (@AlexandriaSahai) June 14, 2022

10/12 I think what is important to remember here is that there’s a huge money-earning, machine behind this. It’s not just an individual, it’s a whole company. And it’s connected to other short video apps that are popular outside of China.

— Alexandria Sahai Williams (@AlexandriaSahai) June 14, 2022

To me, it’s a human zoo of sorts, reimagined for this new, digital, socially-distanced age. Where humans, from elsewhere in the world can gawk at the foreignness and often visible poverty of the Africans featured – all through the comfort of their Iphones and favourite social media and messaging apps. It places a distance between customer and costumed-performer that allows the former to avoid questions around the morality and regulation of this trade.

[…] In China, the majority of people know very little about Africa and its people – their primary point of reference will be media – mainstream, most traditionally, but increasingly social media.

[…] Content creators like Susu are able to position themselves as authorities on Africanness. They, collectively, are in complete control of the narrative they choose to spin – and to anyone who knows no difference, this then becomes an acceptable truth.

[…] Without [an honest, open dialogue about anti-Blackness in a Chinese context], I fear that the specific brand of racism that has underpinned the exploitation of African children in this industry, will only continue to be one of China’s biggest exports. []