The commercial for the “Qiaobi” brand — which has gone viral in the West — shows a black man whistling and winking at a young Chinese woman, who calls him over, puts a detergent packet into his mouth, and forces him headfirst into a washing machine.
She sits on the lid while the man shrieks. Moments later an Asian man emerges in clean clothes, and the woman grins.
“We meant nothing but to promote the product, and we had never thought about the issue of racism,” a spokesman for the Leishang cosmetics company, which produces the detergent, told China’s Global Times.
“The foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad,” he added.
The spokesman said a shorter version was broadcast in China, which did not feature the black actor, and he had no idea how the full-length clip ended up online.
The advertisement has provoked an uproar on US news websites, which cited it as an example of racist attitudes towards black people in China.
“This ad is blatantly racist… it’s also a reminder that attitudes over race and skin colour in China can be very bad,” said Vox.com
But it has attracted little attention in its home country, with few comments on social media, and fewer than 2,000 views of the same ad on popular video-sharing site Youku.
China has historically experienced almost no migration by people of African descent, although the population has grown in recent years as China has risen to become the continent’s biggest trading partner.
Traditional attitudes prizing white skin in women have contributed to bias against dark-skinned people.