Racial stereotypes in China's gaming community

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Article by Orange Wang in the South China Morning Post (5/29/18):

"In China’s gaming world, lucky ‘Europeans’ and unlucky ‘Africans’ expose racial stereotypes: While players say popular descriptors are not intended to cause offence, critics see them as ‘verbal microaggression’ and inappropriate"

Complete with photographs of players in blackface and a "popular video [that] shows several gamers in leopard print costumes with dark make-up and tattooed faces doing a tribal dance and singing about being 'African tribal chiefs'".

“African tribal chief” is used to describe the unluckiest players, while “European emperor” refers to the most fortunate.

The use of European and African as synonyms for fortune and misfortune has become so popular among online gamers in China that entering the two words into search engine Baidu will produce a long list of results that have nothing to do with geography or anthropology. On Baike, the Chinese version of Wikipedia, there is an entry for “African” as an “online expression” to describe those who are “unlucky” or “do poorly” in online games.

These descriptors are now widely accepted in the online gaming community, according to Zoe Guan, who plays Onmyoji, a fantasy strategy game for mobiles developed by NetEase.


Guan admitted it was “a bit racist” but said few gamers had questioned the use of these words as synonyms.

NetEase declined to comment.

Yinghong Cheng, a Delaware State University specialist on modern China, said that such usage "essentialises blackness with African and connects them to a less lucky, meaning inferior, status…”.

Professor Cheng's statement needs some unpacking of its own, especially his use of "essentialises", a term that, like "reification", has always mystified me.

[h.t. Mark Metcalf]

1 Comment

  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 29, 2018 @ 10:46 am

    I dare say that the South China Morning Post does not typically quote Delaware State faculty as go-to academic experts in their stories, so I view Prof. Cheng's quote, however freighted with modern academic jargon, as a PR bonanza for DSU. Go Hornets!

    There is a certain irony in 21st century Mandarin vernacular coming up with a racially-loaded way to express the same concept once expressed in American English by the now-mostly-abandoned phrase "Chinaman's chance."

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