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An Examination of Racism towards Chinese Citizens

On August 14, 2007 Mattel announced recalls for over 9 million Chinese-made toys produced as early as 2003. According to an article on MSNBC, at least one child has died since 2003 due to possible lead-paint and magnets in the toys. A few weeks later, Mattel apologized to China and took responsibility for design flaws causing this recall. An analysis of the American media’s response to Mattel’s recall will reveal beliefs about Chinese people which resulted in racist and inaccurate rhetoric. Mattel’s recall and the media’s reaction can be used as proof that within American culture is embedded of racist idea of inferiority that has been imposed upon Chinese people and dates back decades.

China Racism Research

The media’s response to Mattel’s recall best illustrates the racist feelings that have been embedded into American culture. Mattel recalled a total of “21 million toys this summer, the majority of which had small magnets that could fall out and be harmful to children if swallowed,” (AP Online, 1). General feelings are that Mattel’s decision to recall the products was understandable. It is unthinkable to allow toys to remain in the marketplace when they are hazardous to children. However, Mattel’s recall spurred the media into an unjust attack on China. This reaction was typical because it exposed the racist thoughts about Chinese that have been perpetuated throughout the media for decades.

The Chinese media was aware that the media’s reaction was overtop and premature. One source says that “China's state media on Monday welcomed U.S. toy maker Mattel's apology over its recalls of Chinese-made toys, saying that although overdue it should help restore the country's sullied export reputation,” (AP Online, 1). However, the Chinese media did not feel that Mattel’s apology was enough. The Chinese media felt that the American media’s response to Mattel was “a campaign to discredit its reputation as an exporter. It accuses foreign media and others of playing up its product safety issues as a form of protectionism. The International Herald Leader, a subsidiary publication of China's official Xinhua News Agency, said in an editorial that the American media should also apologize for the way it handled the Mattel recalls. (AP Online, 1) This statement best illustrates the American media’s reaction to the Chinese population as a whole. The Chinese media has already acknowledged something that has been happening in the American media for far too long. The American media portrays China in a negative light which has detrimental effects on international business transactions, (Xin, 1).

Mattel’s response to China is just one instance of a series of racist propaganda which can be traced back decades. The media has always shown Chinese people in an unfavorable light and many of the claims about Chinese people are inaccurate and based on racist beliefs. One stereotype perpetuated by the American media is that Chinese people are unclean. This stereotype has impacted China’s relations with America and impacts it relationship negatively in business and culture. One source states that “China has been portrayed as a nation blind to hygiene and blissfully unconcerned about recent reports of food contamination. That's troubling, because it reinforces the notion that befouled food is the consequence of a foul culture,” (Yang, 1). From this standpoint, the media’s portrayal of China not only changes the perception of Chinese people from a business standpoint because buyers do not want to work with China for fear of food contamination. It also changes the perception of Chinese people from a cultural standpoint because it perpetuates the racist belief that Chinese people are inferior to Americans because their culture is foul and unclean.

The racist propaganda can be traced back decades and this can be seen in its use as a marketing strategy in the 1970s. One researcher states that “pointing the finger at Asian imports was the default PR strategy for U.S. auto manufacturers in the 1970s because it was easier to blame faceless, nameless hordes of foreigners than to address the industry's real problems.” This means that the racism imposed on Chinese people held a distinct purpose. The U.S. auto manufactures felt that by blaming the Chinese, it would take the negative attention off of them. Although, it may have served the purpose for the auto industry at the time, the actions taken by the auto industry were racist and unjust. The industry should have taken responsibility for its actions instead of perpetuating the idea that Chinese people are inferior. This is just one example of how business use racism in order to maintain their own credibility. What Mattel did could be seen as another example. Perpetuating racism is never a solution for any problem and the executives that work for these industries should be aware of this.

Although the negative effects can be seen in the race relations internationally, they can be seen nationally as well. Asian-American’s are the victims of hate crimes and these hate crimes stem from racist propaganda. “Twenty-five years ago last month, Vincent Chin, a young Chinese American man in Detroit, was killed by two disgruntled autoworkers who accused him of being part of a conspiracy to "take away American jobs" before beating him with a baseball bat.” (Yang, 1) This is an example of what happens when racist thoughts are promoted. Negative stereotypes are not just unfair but can lead to murder.

The only way to combat the racist propaganda that is imposed on Chinese people is by broadcasting the truth. Chinese-Americans make up the fabric of American culture and their contributions to America throughout history must be acknowledged. The contributions of the Chinese population is varied and “from building railroads to the earliest rockets, from agriculture to pioneering AIDS research, Chinese-Americans have been at the core of the American infrastructure.” Therefore it seems quite unfair for American media to contradict the truth about Chinese Americans and the Chinese people as a whole by broadcasting racist propaganda and myths of inferiority.

Mattel’s apology to the Chinese people was necessary. The allegations that the company made towards China caused damage to their reputation as suppliers. Mattel should have acknowledged that the company was wrong to blame China when the true responsibility for the mistakes that put children’s lives at risks was on its American shoulders. However, the media’s response to the Mattel recall stemmed from racist beliefs that Chinese people, as a culture, are inferior to Americans. This belief manifests itself in American media in a variety of ways and the treatment of the Mattel story is just one of them.

Research shows that the racist treatment of the media towards Chinese people dates back decades. One study showed that it was a marketing strategy for the auto industry in the 1970s. They decided to shift the blame off of themselves and blame the Chinese because it would help them not to have to take responsibility for their own mistakes. This process directly relates to what Mattel did and the racist treatment of Chinese people by the American people can have deadly consequences. The instance of the Chinese-American who was murdered by racist Americans best show what happens who racism is acted upon. The only way to combat racism is by acknowledged the many contributions that Chinese Americans have made to America as a society.


"China Media Says Mattel Apology Overdue." AP Online. Press Association, Inc. HighBeam Research.

Jeff Yang. "A Taste of Racism in the Chinese Food Scare." The Washington Post. Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive. HighBeam Research.

"Fu Manchu doesn't live here; The struggle and triumph of Chinese-Americans are an integral part of US history.(FEATURES)(BOOKS)." The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Publishing Society. HighBeam Research.

"The Hidden, Shameful History of Legalized US Anti-Chinese Racism." Defense & Aerospace Week. NewsRX

Xin, Hao. "Racism allegations taint Chinese effort to recruit overseas talent.(SCIENTIFIC WORKFORCE)." Science. American Association for the Advancement of Science.