Exotic or idealized? Is It Time to Reject Both? | Haiyun Lu | 4 Min Read

Nov. 29, 2022

Two years ago, Dolce & Gabbana lost its entire Chinese market overnight due to an ill-run ad. The ad featured three Italian products: pizza, cannoli, and spaghetti.  Just hearing the names of the three delicious Italian foods, you would think, how bad it can be, right?

Well, allow me to explain.

The background and props in the ad used the stereotypical red to negatively reinforce a westerner’s impression of “red China”.  From the model’s dress, lighting, room décor, and tablecloth to pizza and spaghetti, everything was bloody red.  It felt like being in an emergency room when everything bled around you instead of being in a fancy restaurant to enjoy a luxury meal.  The model awkwardly used chopsticks to eat everything as if she had never held chopsticks before.  She poked and pierced at the pizza, tried to pick up a piece with her chopsticks instead of her hands, and only got warned that the cheese might fall off her plate.  Adding to the insult, the ad called the Chinese national treasure – Chopsticks, “little sticks.”  The worst part of all was that the model had no personality.  All she did was smile at the camera, shrug her shoulders, and eat awkwardly.  A stereotypical submissive Chinese woman!  Chinese consumers were outraged!  They boycotted Dolce & Gabbana overnight.  

When I read that piece of news, I felt a sense of empowerment and satisfaction.  China is no longer a place any foreign business can just enter with prejudice and unchecked pride.  Chinese consumers demand respect for their culture, otherwise, a company can easily lose 1.5 billion potential customers.

About two weeks ago, I read another piece of news regarding angry Chinese consumers that boycotted Nike and the Apple Watch Series 7.  Why?  Well, according to Dao Insights, consumers view the models in the ads as more of the “exotic” type, which only fulfills a westerner’s taste of Chinese women, but not up to their “idealized” standard.  

In Nike’s ad, the model has the typical slanted eyes, and when she smiles, one can only see two lines cross her face.  Her skin is kind of yellowish, her expression is dull, and the worst of…

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Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.