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Media newlight on 16 Aug 2008 07:58 pm

Open your eyes

When I first saw the Spanish basket ball team’s slit-eyed photo, I was baffled. I couldn’t work out what the gesture was about. Slit-eyed people? Do they mean us?

This may somewhat explain the muted response from China. People are largely puzzled by the gesture. When reporting the story, the editor of the Beijing News even felt necessary to add some explanation of what the gesture means, “a common gesture can be suspected as racist, which is not often seen in Asia.”

It may also have something to do with the timing. Chinese media only caught the story after it was raised during the daily news conference during the Olympics. Search “Spanish basket ball team” in Chinese and you get dozens of results all saying “Spanish basket ball team apologized for the guilian (making a face) photo”. One blogger commented that if only the story was broken 24 hours earlier, before the two countries’ basket ball team met, then the Chinese team might be more motivated to resist Spain’s comeback.

The slit-eyed gesture may take some explanation for Chinese to understand, but that does not say we don’t make fun of other people’s look. Cantonese use ‘gwailo‘ (ghost man) to call foreign people because their deep eye sock and funny coloured hairs. You can say it’s disrespectful but over the time it has become neutral, even affectionate. I guess Spanish could use the similar line to defend that photo. Indeed a Chinese blogger living in Barcelona felt moved to defend the locals. “A friendly gesture between close friends to be interpreted as racist. No wonder Spanish people are angry.”

Something deemed to be friendly may not be felt the same way when seeing the light. I guess like gwailo, the slit-eyed gesture was originated at a time of ignorance, when mocking people’s racial characteristics was more acceptable. Whether those participated in this public display thought the time hadn’t changed or the viewers would think the same I have on idea. The advertiser who insisted to take this photo may think it was harmless fun to mock Chinese in such a way when they only thought the Spanish-speaking population as the targeted audiences. But in a globalised world, this is insensitive to say the least.

I frowned on the photo when I thought I finally worked it out, some of my fellow countrymen would shrug it off, but I can understand others may be furious and hurt. Spanish media seem to think all the fuss about this is storm in a tea cup, a misunderstanding of Spanish culture, or even a witch hunt. However, whether stereotyping is playful or hurtful can only be decided by those are being targeted. In this instance, the Spainish may well do their image some good by opening their eyes.

9 Responses to “Open your eyes”

  1. on 18 Aug 2008 at 09:49 1.LinkChinese UK News » Opinion: Open your eyes said …

    [...] By Pin Lu from WaterInk. [...]

  2. on 06 Feb 2009 at 19:03 2.Play With Words » How to offend people said …

    [...] 一个用词是否有歧视意义,只有接受方才有最终的发言权。这其实与北京奥运前夕,西班牙和阿根廷运动员拍“眯眼照”合影的举动类似。 [...]

  3. on 28 Jul 2015 at 02:53 3.Nick said …

    I had a look at your blog and your photos. They are so good. You feel as if you were there. And that is diflucift. Next time you come to Spain do it further south for a real taste of COLOUR, FIESTA and SIESTA, he, he. I live in Andaluceda, close to Granada- Me1laga…I shall keep your blog to follow. How did you find my blog? I am interested to know, just in case it is worth translate into English.Un abrazoSacramento

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