‘Slanted eyes equal to insulting Chinese’ controversy should not divide Chinese society
Published: Dec 27, 2021 11:11 PM
Photo: screenshot from Weibo

Photo: screenshot from Weibo

A 2019 advertisement of Chinese food brand Three Squirrels reminded some Chinese people of how Westerners often use slanted eyes to mock them because the model in the ad has small eyes and is dressed up with strong taste. For this reason, it was labeled as an attempt to "humiliate China." Three Squirrels withdrew the advertisement a few days ago, but it is far from settling the matter. The model defended herself in a post Sunday evening, asking "am I unqualified to be a Chinese because of my small eyes?"She also complained that it is a morbid statement to make a big deal of everything. This has further fueled the controversy. 

I think "humiliating China" is a specific phenomenon and a kind of special feeling that has been going on over quite a long period. Since modern times, the West has never ceased its contempt and mockery on the Chinese people, Chinese, especially those overseas, are particularly sensitive to this. The feeling has partly been strengthened by our sense of cultural inferiority. In other words, they did humiliate us first but how much we were hurt was inversely proportional to our strength. We also scold Westerners but often they are not concerned. This is because they have a sense of superiority, so they do not care about being ridiculed by us. 

I believe that we are now living at a time when China's material capacity is increasing and its people are becoming more and more broad-minded. And I believe that our attention to the "insults to China" from Westerners will definitely gradually fade, so will our anger when facing "insults."  We have discovered more cases of "insulting China" in recent times. That is because as the internet develops, there are more scrutiny and more resources to punish those who "insult China." It is quite interesting to teach the "offenders" a lesson and it helps us find our own sense of power. I have noticed that those who "insult China" often apologize quickly when they are caught because they fear the possibility of losing of their business in China. This is a complete contrast to what happened when China was very poor: Back then, Westerners used to have a sense of superiority that we could do nothing even if they insulted China.

I believe this will remain the same for a long period. Now, exposing case of "insulting China" are no longer something that makes Chinese tremble with fury. Instead, we generally feel good. It is a natural process for Chinese people to bid farewell to sorrow and to increasingly consolidate our national confidence. 

Regarding Three Squirrels, I do not believe the company and the model have a motive to "insult China" from within. What would be their purpose? Are they crazy to commit a "social suicide"? I think the case is still a problem of aesthetic disconnection. There is the possibility that the company has been affected by the standards set by the West on aesthetics regarding China. If Chinese society refuses to accept the image of Chinese people presented in this advertisement, I believe similar behavior will disappear from ads. 

When Westerners say that Chinese people have slanted eyes, some speak out of contempt and others out of humor and not necessarily maliciously. When we present Chinese people with small eyes, it could mean confidence or self-mockery. I think they are all fine. But if we divide ourselves from within along the China-West rift and make a big issue out of it, it is truly unnecessary.

The author is a Global Times commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn