Amid a growing sense of online nationalism and anti-West sentiment in China, some have seized upon advertisements as examples of racism towards Chinese people.
By featuring models with narrow eyes, critics say these companies are perpetuating Western stereotypes of Chinese faces, the BBC reported.
In November, a top Chinese fashion photographer had apologised for her “ignorance” after a picture she shot for French luxury brand Dior sparked a backlash. It had featured a Chinese model with narrow eyes.
In recent days, there have been other incidents of social media outrage over ads by Mercedes-Benz and Gucci that featured Chinese women with narrow eyes, the BBC reported.
Many asked why these ads did not feature the kind of models more commonly seen in Chinese advertisements, who have fair skin and large round eyes, which are typically considered ideal beauty features in China.
A recent editorial by state news outlet China Daily highlighted how “for too long, Western criteria of beauty, and Western tastes and likes and dislikes dominated aesthetics”. That included depicting Asian women in adverts as having narrow eyes, it said.
“The West no longer has an absolute say over everything. The Chinese people do not need to follow their standards on what constitutes beauty and what kinds of women are considered beautiful,” the opinion piece read.
As a Chinese brand, Three Squirrels “should have known about the sensitivity of Chinese consumers to how they are portrayed in advertisements”, it added, the BBC reported.
At the heart of the controversy is the perception that such depictions invoke the “slanted eyes” stereotype of Asian people which emerged in Western culture in the 19th century, and which is considered hugely offensive by many Asians today, the report said.
In Hollywood, the quintessential Asian villain Fu Manchu was pictured with thin and narrow eyes. The character embodied and perpetuated “yellow peril”, the racist idea that Asian cultures threatened Western society.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)