Mercedes Draws Flak for ‘Insulting China’ With Slanted-Eyes Model

By Rita Li
Rita Li
Rita Li
Rita Li is a reporter with The Epoch Times, focusing on China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2018.
December 29, 2021 Updated: December 29, 2021

German automaker Mercedes-Benz provoked anger in China for using a model with “slanted eyes” in a video advertisement.

The Asian-looking female model, featuring small, slanted eyes and high cheekbones, drew criticism from nationalistic Chinese netizens upon its release via Chinese social media platform Weibo on Dec. 25.

The relevant hashtag has since generated about 250 million views and 150 million comments by users. Hu Xijin, former chief editor of Chinese state-owned tabloid Global Times newspaper said he was “extremely frustrated and angry” at the advertisement.

According to the paper, some netizens were not happy with the way makeup was applied on the model. “The makeup of the female model looked like slanted eyes and once again aroused a heated discussion from netizens with many blaming that the makeup reflects Western stereotypes about Asian people.”

Mercedes took down the advertisement on Dec. 28, according to Chinese state media.

Some Chinese internet users have become infuriated.

“This is a deliberate test of [our] bottom line,” wrote netizen “ManYao” on Dec. 28.

Yet, other netizens see the way Asian models are depicted as normal and called for respect for cultural diversity and individuals’ preferences. “For either ancient drawing of Chinese ladies or from the ancient makeup history, the slanted eye has always been a feature of Chinese makeup. … I don’t see what’s wrong with the eyes of the model in this advertisement,” a netizen said on Dec. 30 via Weibo.

Mercedes is only the latest company to receive criticism for using Asian-looking models in advertisements. In 2019, a local Chinese snack brand, “Three Squirrels,” featured advertisements for noodle products on its Weibo microblogging account, showing a Chinese model. Critics accused the company of defaming China over its selection of models and makeup styles.

The food company apologized in a statement, saying the model is Chinese and the makeup style was designed to suit her natural features.

The model featured in its advertisements has spoken out against criticism.

“Just because my eyes are small, I’m not good enough to be a Chinese person? I don’t know what to say to these comments … I’m really helpless,” the model said in a Weibo post under the handle Cai Niangniang.

“As a professional model, what I need to do is be photographed according to what the client wants,” she said, calling such nationalism “sickness.”

A netizen disagreed with the “insulting China” allegation. “On the contrary, I think this model is very beautiful, because she has a high-class face,” he said in a Twitter post.

Nationalism

Foreign brands in China are trying to court Chinese shoppers but have gotten caught in the crosshairs of Chinese nationalism.

In November, luxury brand Dior, apologized and withdrew a photo, depicting an Asian model clutching a Dior handbag, from an art exhibit. The model had freckles and wore very dark makeup. In response to criticism in China, the company removed related content from social media and said that it “respects the feelings of the Chinese people.”

It is not the first time the French brand decided to tow Beijing’s line. In December 2019, the company issued an apology after it was criticized for using a map of China during a business presentation that didn’t include Taiwan.

In November 2018, Italian luxury fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana saw its goods pulled from Chinese e-commerce sites after presenting a brand model using chopsticks to eat Italian food in its online promotional videos.

Chinese netizens saw it as mocking Chinese culture, which soon sparked an outcry nationwide, including calls for a boycott on social media and the cancellation of one of its biggest shows in Shanghai.

Last week, Intel stoked nationalist fervor in China by asking suppliers not to source products or labor from China’s Xinjiang, where more than 1 million Uyghurs are held in detention camps.

Meanwhile, Walmart faced backlash on Chinese social media after it stopped offering products from the northwestern region in its China-based stores.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rita Li
Rita Li is a reporter with The Epoch Times, focusing on China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2018.