Chinese food brand apologizes after model with 'slanted eyes' criticized for smearing women's image
Published: Dec 26, 2021 07:28 PM
Photo: screenshot from Weibo

Photo: screenshot from Weibo

Chinese food brand Three Squirrels made an apology on Sunday after its posters were criticized for using a model with slanted eyes. The posters are being accused of "smearing the image of Chinese women" and violating the law for using late Chinese leader Mao Zedong's portraits. 

The viral posters show a female model with slanted eyes holding products made from the company, and one poster shows a bowl and a cup printed with the portraits of Mao on a desk next to the model.

Many netizens said the posters were feeding into Western stereotypical images of Chinese people - slanted eyes - just like the recent controversial photos taken by the Chinese photographer Chen Man showing a model with single eyelids and dark skin for the fashion brand Dior exhibition.

The company denied the posters were deliberately smearing Asians. It claims the posters debuted in October, 2019. The model is a Chinese, and her controversial makeup style - slanted eyes - is based on her personal characteristics. 

The brand also delivered an apology to netizens who feel "uncomfortable" with the model's makeup, and has removed related products. "We have arranged to check other product pages of the company to prevent similar situations," the company said. 

Some netizens expressed their support to the brand by arguing that China has many ethnic groups with a diverse appearance, and Chinese should be more tolerant in accepting different types of faces.  

"Beauty is diverse, and it may be limited and rigid if people restricted it to any particular form," Wang Yifan, a makeup blogger, told the Global Times.

She added that narrow eyes have been in the gene of many ancient Chinese, just like the ladies' portraits in Tang Dynasty (618-907). "I think the aesthetic spirit of our current era is inclusive, and we need to have an open mind, tolerant of multiple interpretations," she said. 

"Some reactions by Chinese netizens might be excessive. Their overreactions reflect that they were 'hurt deeply' by the previous controversial Dior photos taken by Chen Man," Wang Sixin, a media law professor at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times.

Wang said that some Western brands like Dior smear Asian images on purpose by posting ugly images of Asian faces, but Western models appearing in their promotions are usually very pretty and elegant. However, Three Squirrels is a Chinese brand, and is less likely to follow in the steps of those foreign brands. 

"There is no need to be so sensitive," he said.

One of the posters printed with the portrait of Mao have also been questioned by netizens for violating China's advertising laws, which ban any form of using the portrait of (late) Chinese leaders in commercial promotions. 

Chinese lawyers have confirmed to the Global Times that the poster has violated China's advertising laws.

But the brand did not make any response to the poster involving Mao. 

"Three Squirrels' posters are suspected of using Mao's portraits to catch people's eyeball. This has hindered the fair competition of the enterprises," Liu Junhai, a law professor at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

"The posters have violated the law. Deleting related products is one step, and the company may also face a fine according to the law. State Administration for Market Regulation will deal with the issue," Xie Zhiyong, a law professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.