The skit, named Happy Together, was jointly performed by Chinese and African actors, and was meant to emphasise the strong bond between China and Africa.
It featured the story of an 18-year-old Kenyan woman, a stewardess of the new Nairobi-Mombasa Express Railway, trying to escape a blind date arranged by her mother by asking her Chinese manager to pretend to be her date.
The mother was played by a Chinese actress, appearing on stage in blackface and wearing a pair of exaggerated buttocks. As if this was not appalling enough, she was followed by a Chinese actor in a monkey costume, who also painted his arms black.
The show ended with the African actress declaring her wish to learn from Chinese people, who “roll up their sleeves to work hard, and win praises from the whole world.” The African mother, played by the Chinese actress, completes the scene by shouting: “I love Chinese people! I love China!”
Reactions to the skit exploded instantly on Chinese social networks. While many Weibo users found the show “awkward” and “plain racist,” some were also worried about how the show would make the international world think about China.
Audience members commented, “It makes me feel like I’m living in the last century,” and that “we are going to lose face internationally.”
“I’m speechless about the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. How on earth was the show approved?” questioned @felou on Weibo.
“This was even more awkward than the previous show that praised the bond between the Mainland and Taiwan,” commented @LittleWhitecue on an earlier skit of the gala.
Netizens were shocked that the state media could make this mistake on its most-watched show. But these comments were soon mysteriously removed. On Weibo, some netizens complained that their comments on the skit’s racism were deleted. On Zhihu, an entire thread about the 2018 Spring Festival Gala was removed.
Ironically, one of the shows aired on the gala was called “Speak Up,” and was supposed to encourage ordinary people to speak up about their comments towards the government.
Netizens on Zhihu soon set up a new thread about the gala. This time, the comments were almost unilaterally positive. One commenter said, “It’s really good! I was raised to a higher level!” Others obscured their criticisms noting that, “After all, ‘good’ is the only thing I can say.“