Slanted eyes still considered an offense to Chinese people?

Zhang Long
Snack brand Three Squirrels apologized for using a model having slanted eyes in an ad shoot in 2019. Some argued that the brand was "uglifying Chinese people", but are they really?
Zhang Long

Three Squirrels, a Chinese Internet snack brand, was pressured into issuing a statement on Sunday apologizing for using "slanted-eyed" models for an advertisement photo shoot in 2019.

The issue stirred quite a controversy on social media with many believing that the brand's model with such facial features was "uglifying Chinese people."

Slanted eyes still considered an offense to Chinese people?

The apology issued by Three Squirrels.

Slanted eyes still considered an offense to Chinese people?

The controversial Three Squirrels food advertisement, featuring a "slanted-eyed" model.

The brand withdrew the ad, saying that it had no intention of making Chinese people look ugly but added that the model was Chinese and the makeup she wore was designed for her features. It was sorry if the model and her makeup had offended people and said that advertisement had been taken down.

The model herself, who goes by the name Cai Niangniang on the Twitter-like, issued a statement saying that she was shocked that her appearance had offended so many people and had stirred such a controversy.

Slanted eyes still considered an offense to Chinese people?

The statement by the model, Cai Niangniang, questions critics who accused her of "uglifying Chinese people" by asking: "I'm not worthy to be a Chinese just because I have small eyes?"

Slanted eyes still considered an offense to Chinese people?

Cai Niangniang's profile picture on her Weibo account.

Cai said in the statement that's how she normally looks and the set of photos were shot in 2019. She was chosen for the ad because her looks, personality and style fitted the brand. She and the brand had absolutely no intention of making the Chinese people look bad or ugly.

Everybody is entitled to their own preference about what beauty is. Just having small eyes doesn't make her any less of a Chinese. No one deserves such groundless cyber attacks, she added.

Slanted eyes still considered an offense to Chinese people?

More controversial photos of Cai Niangniang from the same shoot in 2019.

Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, wrote in a commentary that the uglifying of Chinese people is not a new phenomenon and has occurred in certain period of times.

There has been sustained contempt and ridicule aimed at Chinese people from the West in contemporary times, about which some Chinese people and overseas Chinese are still sensitive.

The sensitivity was amplified by a cultural inferiority, but how much was felt is proportionate to how strong we are. We, in turn, would throw comebacks at the westerners but they would have often fallen on deaf ears, Hu claimed.

As China's international influence and the living standards of its people rise, so will the Chinese people's confidence. Hu believes that such "uglifying" incidents will decline as the Chinese become increasingly confident and therefore more tolerant.

The Shanghai Consumer Council commented that consumer brands need to keep up with the modern public's taste for beauty. They also need to empathize with consumers on an emotional and cultural level.

Also, a recent Chinese animation film "I Am What I Am" created a stir over a similar issue. The main characters are three left-behind underdog teenagers who beat the odds and pursue their dreams of becoming the best lion dance performers.

Slanted eyes still considered an offense to Chinese people?

The three main characters of the animation movie "I Am What I Am".

However, their "slanted eyes" stirred an online controversy over racist stereotypes about Chinese people's facial features.

Despite the controversy, the animation film was a hit. Shanghai Daily's opinion writer Wan Lixin said that "as these youths are innately aspirational, they exude a charm of their own, and their common-place physiognomy, rather than a handicap to their motivational force, makes them more realistic and commendable. For these faces are exactly what we might come across on the street."

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