Can a Mixed-Race Contestant Become a Chinese Idol?

When Lou Jing, a 20-year-old Shanghainese woman, competed on a Chinese version of American Idol, her participation ignited heated discussion in Internet chatrooms, due to the fact that her father, whom she has never met, is African-American and never married her mother. Time Magazine reports:

The marketing gurus for the series could hardly have dreamed of a better promotional gimmick when they started to investigate the backgrounds of the dozens of pop-star wannabes to root out the competitors’ mushy stories of triumph over adversity that are a well-worn staple of the genre. Here was a tale guaranteed to attract eyeballs: a girl of mixed race, brought up by a single Chinese mother, struggling to gain acceptance in a deeply conservative, some would say racist, society.

The strategy worked — perhaps too well. In August, Lou’s appearance on the show not only boosted viewer numbers but also sparked an intense nationwide debate about the essential meaning of being Chinese. Over the past month on Internet chat rooms, where modern China’s sensitive issues are thrashed out by netizens long before they reach the heavily censored mainstream media, Lou’s ethnicity has been the subject of a relentless barrage of criticism, some of it crudely racist. Many think she should not have been allowed to compete on a Chinese show, or at least not selected to represent Shanghai in the national competition. She doesn’t have fair skin, which is one of the most important factors for Chinese beauty. What’s more, her mother and her biological father were never married; morally, the argument goes, this kind of behavior shouldn’t be publicized, so she shouldn’t have been put on TV as a young “idol.”

These kinds of posts on the most popular chat rooms have attracted thousands of comments.

China Daily also reports on the controversy:

“Lou Jing seems to be sensitive about the media coverage because of the pressure it creates in her life,” Zhou Jie, the show’s spokesperson, told China Daily.

“We showed our sympathy and understanding, and tried to eliminate the negative online comments through our network partners.”

Many public figures have started weighing in, as racism has become central to the issue.

“In the same year that Americans welcome Obama to the White House, we can’t even accept this girl with a different skin color,” acclaimed writer Hung Huang posts on her blog.

China Hush also translated an interview with Lou on Netease:

Netease: I remember you said it caused inconvenience to you because of your skin color at early age. What inconvenience? Can you give an example?

Lou Jing: There is no inconvenience as a child. Now it is quite inconvenient, particularly after participated in this competition. I do not recall any childhood memory of inconvenience. As the old saying says “When god closes the door on you, at the same time he opens another window for you.” Normally, when I go out occasionally other people would say something, most of them with good intentions. But there are people with not so good intentions, they would insult me. But just a few words, I listen to them and let it pass. I think, it’s just annoying, as long as people around me all are very good to me and that is enough. After participating in this completion, I finally found out, the world is not like what I thought it was. (Laugh)

Netease: Is there time you feel especially angry? That is to hear what other people say to you?

Lou Jing: Does this competition count? (Laugh) Maybe it’s this competition, I feel the media, some media, said some things are very irresponsible, and not true also. Well, it was very helpless. After all, they are just ordinary petty people who cannot do anything.

September 27, 2009 8:39 PM
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Categories: Society