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Some racism is worse than other racism among Weibo users in China

world Updated: Sep 09, 2016 20:42 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Excerpt from Air China magazine asking travellers to take precautions while visiting Indian, Pakistani and black neighbourhoods of London. (Haze Fan/Twitter)

The case of China’s national carrier Air China’s in-flight magazine featuring a racist tourist advisory targeting Indians and Pakistanis was a hot topic of discussion on the Twitter-like Weibo platform throughout Friday.

The posts brought out a somewhat ambivalent attitude on racism among some Chinese. Some Weibo users criticised the article, while many said it was correct to publicise warnings for tourists and that too much was being read into the article.

The airline faced accusations of racism this week after its magazine, “Wings of China”, asked London-bound travellers to be careful when visiting areas with Indian, Pakistani and black populations.

Safety: London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people,” the magazine said.

The magazine was withdrawn on Thursday following protests from British politicians and angry citizens.

“Inappropriate descriptions have appeared in the article ‘London, Bearings and Stiffness under A Top-hat’ in the September edition of Wings of China. After finding out the problem, Air China has recalled the magazine from all flights in no time, and has demanded Wings of China magazine to seriously learn the lesson and strengthen the censorship of its contents to avoid such incident from happening again,” Air China said in statement.

After the development was widely reported in the international media, it gained traction on Weibo and quickly spread among its users.

The reactions, under the category of “hot topic” on Sina Weibo, were varied.

“If I say keep away from Indians when walking on the road, then its discrimination. If I warn somebody to be alert when in the crime sites, then it's a suggestion,” said user Li Tong.

“Your census has shown the Indian and Pakistani populated areas were not safe, why you're not thinking about how to improve the situation but instead have criticised our suggestions as discriminations? If we say be careful of thieves in crowded places, we're discriminating the whole human race?”

Another user said: “The safety warnings have not been wrong but were really inappropriate. Listing directly Indians, Pakistanis and black people (especially this word) could be deemed discrimination under local culture and laws. Such suggestions would be enough to show only to our people, we don't need to translate into English and show the great merciful Europeans.”

Yet another wrote: “It's just a really objective warning. I can't see what's wrong.  Fed up with the glass-like vulnerable heart of westerners.”

In recent months, popular culture in China has had brushes with racism.

In May, a Chinese company had to apologise for releasing a racially charged TV advertisement showing a “white-washed” black man emerging from a washing machine. A spokesperson for the company, Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics, had then said: “We meant nothing but to promote the product and we had never thought about the issue of racism.”

Ironically, thousands of Chinese Weibo users had reacted angrily and called for a boycott of Virgin Atlantic airline after a Chinese passenger was racially abused on an international Shanghai-bound flight in March.

In the last case, the racism had clearly hit closer to home.