Aug 12

(Letter) Are you offended by this picture?

Written by guest on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008 at 9:05 pm
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It’s apparently an advertisement in Spain’s best-selling newspaper. The Spanish Olympic basketball players, donned Li-Ning Spanish uniforms, are seen in this ad making slit-eyes gesture.

Personally have seen children and pretty women whom I know really well making that gesture to me, in Spanish-speaking country. It contained no malice as far as I could tell, and I certainly wasn’t offended.

Are you offended?

For more of the story, check out here.

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40 Responses to “(Letter) Are you offended by this picture?”

  1. Charles Liu Says:

    one of them is using the middle finger…

  2. Bella Says:

    I am offended, even if I’m not full Chinese, and that’s because the Spanish Olympic team clearly shows no respect for China, the HOST nation of this year’s Olympics. Seriously disrespectful.

  3. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    Even if their intention was to insult the Chinese, why should any Chinese feel offended? Isn’t their “insulting” action trivial? Trivialness is the birthmark of people with low IQ. In my very immature days I used to find inferiority in a social target infuriating. I have never been able to figure out why but it was a scary feeling; you are responsible for containing yourself.

    With the turbulent experiences of 2008, I feel we Chinese are now in a very mellow and nurturing state of mind. One world, one dream, peace and harmony for all. This is just how I feel.

  4. Daniel Says:

    I sort felt the same too as bxbq mentioned but later on, it didn’t matter. To say that people are foolish for feeling offended is almost like telling someone who was push off of a bicycle to hold hold a grudge or feel angry towards the person who did that to him/her. It’s a silly analogy but who are we to dictate to others how they should feel and think?
    Sort of like the countless jokes and incidents for racial humor or percieved racial humor. Although utlimately it’s up to the individual to how he/she will react to the racial comedy, it doesn’t mean they can’t feel offended or upset/angry at the person or the act itself. Of course, it depends on the context and environment, but at times, it may become too much of an excuse that can lead to more serious situations. Although many people believe that they should be able to laugh at themselves, it’s ok but some prejudices are often kept alive and become stronger by such actions.

    I saw this picture on another site, but it’s like well, yes it is rude to do that yet at the same time it seem too silly to even bother thinking about it. I read about it but it’s probably not the whole story or some PR person could twist it around to make it a big deal or not.
    So one word response…whatever.

  5. Daniel Says:

    Sorry typo…my example should have this way. \
    *To say that people are foolish for feeling offended is almost like telling someone who was push off of a bicycle to NOT hold a grudge or feel angry towards the person who did that to him/her.*

  6. Hongkonger Says:

    With many Chinese, nicknames are terms of endearment. We, chinese are always pointing out / making fun of each others shortcomings. Monikers like short boy, big nose Weng, four-eyed three, blind idiot, fat boy six, nerdy nine, long-legged seven, etc. Even HK’s SAR Chief Executives are often called by the media by their monikers Bow-tie Tsang, or Lao Mong Tung i.e. Old Senile Tung by almost everybody (not within his earshot, I hope.)

    I am 100% Han Chinese, I don’t have slanted eyes, but I find those Chinese girls with small nose and slanted eyes very very sexy!

  7. MutantJedi Says:

    I’m with Hongkonger about sexy Chinese girls. 🙂

    As for the Spaniards…. why sweat it? These people do loads of crazy stuff. 🙂 I’m sure they meant no offense so why take offense.

  8. my_mother Says:

    Hey JXie,

    The NY Times article has a bit more on the subject. You will find the motivation for the picture a bit surprising. The comments are fun to read too.


  9. kkkn Says:

    Just because “children and pretty women whom I know really well making that gesture” does not make it OK. It goes to show how deep this particular brand of racism has become embedded into the culture and became acceptable to the general population.
    Think about this, if the Chinese team painted their skin black and wear American jersey, what would the reaction be? Then you can understand why this is racist and even more profoundly, why it can be acceptable to you.

  10. rocking offkey Says:

    It’s way more insulting that they start end-of-bench players for the China-Spain match.

  11. JXie Says:

    kkkn, I don’t know if that’s OK — I am not a morality or sensitivity police. All I know is that I am not offended. A similar case would be Colin Powell using “Chinaman” in one of his speeches. I didn’t find that offensive either.

    Rocking offkey, who might they (end-of-bench Spanish starters) be? I actually watched yesterday’s game, and Spain’s starting 5 were their normal starting 5. China should’ve won. Spain is obviously still a better team, but the gap is narrowed.

  12. hotshotdebut Says:

    Having lived in Spain for years, I met some people who did the same gesture to me. Don’t get me wrong. Most of them are my friends. It was awkward. I believe it is just a lack of racial sensitivities. They hardly meant any harm. They did this just to tell me that even Spaniards have black hair and eyes, they don’t share same eyes feature. Of course I don’t like the way they did it, but neither I pointed it out. I guess I just didn’t want to fall into an argument.

    Now the fact that The Guardian first mentioned the photo made me wonder if they are seeking revenge for another incident involving British F1 star Lewis Hamilton, who became a target of booing in Spain. Bill O’Reilly also critized the photo. Apparently he wanted the American team to kick their asses.

    Both of El País and El Mundo ran the story, but El Mundo’s story offered a rebuttal from the team and said that the idea behind the picture was from one of the sponsors, but the newspaper failed to specify whose idea was it to imitate Asian eyes, sponsor or team member? Most like he’s not a Chinese. Maybe I wasn’t well-informed, but I didn’t know about the gesture until I went to Spain.

    It’s interesting to see that this time the most vocal voice comes from European and American press, not Chinese.

  13. Hemulen Says:

    It’s not a big deal, but I think the photograph is stupid. I sometimes get pissed when people make fun of my nose in China, so I assume that there are Chinese people who would take offense of that picture. There are good ways of poking fun at China, this is not one of them.

  14. deltaeco Says:

    Well, I am Spanish. The gesture may be somewhat stupid even funny, but to interpret it as a racism is well beyond the mark. I think The Guardian article reveals more of the racism’s paranoia on the British side than on the Spanish side.

    IMHO racism has not a strong hold on the Spanish mind. It can not be because we are a mix of people. Too many different people crossed and settled in the Iberian peninsula, from Europe (Celts, Romans, Germans, Franks), and Africa (Phoenician, Iberian, Arabs, Jews and Berbers) and in the last 500 year South and Central Americans. Of the last one there are many “mixed” families ( my own included)

    The concept of “race” in Spain is cultural rather than genetic/ethnic. When I hear someone speak Spanish, by the accent I know he is Spanish, how he/she looks like has no relevance. Yes, we had conflicts among different peoples, but driven by religion fundamentalism: Christianity, Islam and Judaism Fortunately that conflict is now history. Even during the 11 May terror attack in Madrid there was no reaction against Muslim people.

    That makes some remarks and gestures to have little or not significance among us, but may be wrongly interpreted in other countries where racism is(or was) more visceral.
    I feel they want to see in the gesture of the Spanish team photo, what they fear to see in themselves.

  15. fowler Says:

    These players look like apes pointing to their skulls. But that’s just my take. Not trying to be offensive, right?

  16. Michelle Says:

    I am totally offended. My race has nothing to do with this, but my nationality evidently does (having read the NYT article). I’m shocked that Chinese people aren’t crying bloody murder and that many see nothing wrong with this. Anyhow, when living in Eastern Europe, many people would make the same gesture when I told them I studied Chinese. Totally insulting from my point of view, but I’m in the minority it seems. Very weird.

  17. Aorijia Says:

    Isn’t that the kind of thing one stops doing when one turns… 5 y.o??

    I’m from Spain too. Let me tell you almost nobody here (in Spain) understands why people around the world are making such a fuss about this “innocent picture”. It might be lack of sensitivity, or different sensitivities, who knows?

    I don’t think the picture was ill intentioned; I do find it childish and stupid. I am amazed nobody could foresee what such a senseless action could trigger. But please don’t run to conclusions regarding the 40 mill. inhabitants in this country based on what a bunch of basketball players do.

  18. Aorijia Says:

    BTW, I hope they issue a public apology for this ASAP.

  19. lbw Says:

    Yes. They need to apologize.

  20. Hemulen Says:

    What mystifies me about this episode is that a lot of Chinese students in Spain were enraged when a Spanish company ran an ad making fun of Mao. From what I can tell, the rage emanating from the Chinese community in Spain is no where near that level. I think it is strange that making fun of a leader/dictator is considered more sensitive than making fun of the racial features of a people.


    IMHO racism has not a strong hold on the Spanish mind.

    Please, don’t engage in this kind of make-believe. Most football fans in the world are familiar with the antics of Real Madrid and its supporters. Spain has its fair share of racism just like any other country.

  21. Aorijia Says:


    I don’t think what a bunch of hooligans do at a football match represents the whole society. That said, I think it is undeniable that Spain has, as you say, its ‘fair share of racism’ (words like “sudaca” or “gitano” (as an insult) don’t come out of the blue, nor out of love), and probably our short (recent) history as a multicultural society makes a lot of people in Spain have a much thicker skin regarding what is culturally acceptable than in other places around the world.

    Believe it or not, the gesture of the basketball players is not viewed in Spain as something insulting or racially offensive! I’ve been reading tons of debates on the issue- in Spanish and English- and the opinion gap between them is amazing. Please, if you guys find any forums on the issue in Chinese let me know!

  22. Hemulen Says:


    I’m compelled to respond, although I’m growing increasingly tired of this blog. And these kind of debates is one of the reasons. I am stunned to hear grown-ups engaging in this kind of make-believe argument. It may very well be true that “the gesture of the basketball players is not viewed in Spain as something insulting or racially offensive”. There is only one problem, communication is a two-way street. If some Spanish athletes insist on making fun of Chinese this way, knowing full well that many Chinese take offense, I don’t think it is wide of the mark to accuse them of racism or at least insensitivity. It’s a simple as that. I have had the same argument with some contributors to this blog who loudly proclaim that various Chinese words for foreigner are “not racist”, and it is just as tiring.

  23. SenorSparkles Says:

    The demographics of Spain might point to why they don’t find this ridiculous
    ad offensive. Asian-americans are 5 percent of the US population. I assume
    it’s much lower in Spain. The ad isn’t a joke. It’s vile. It’s racist. Making that
    gesture and the use of the word ‘chink’ are some of the most offensive things
    you can do to any asian in the US. In my experience growing up in the states,
    that gesture is usually followed by a series of racial slurs or violence. It isn’t a joke.

    Both Spain and China, though they are multi cultural, are no where near the US
    in terms of diversity; people of color make up around 30 percent of the population.
    In the US, we have to live together so these types of gestures simply aren’t funny
    or immature. They are racist. It isn’t being oversensitive; it’s just about treating
    people with respect.

    As for the lack of a Chinese response, it could be several things. Many chinese
    have never travelled abroad so they may have not experienced in your face racism.
    I’m sure if someone explained the significance of the gesture in the West, there
    would be massive outrage.

    If you live in a more monocultural country, you may not have the experiences to understand this. A perfect example is the Spaniard who wrote that racism doesn’t have a stronghold in his country. What a joke! With this ad in a major newspaper and the most ugly racist statements I have heard in years during F1 and soccer, how can you not see your country as having race issues.

  24. deltaeco Says:

    “A perfect example is the Spaniard who wrote that racism doesn’t have a stronghold in his country. What a joke! ”

    And I am still keeping my opinion. There is a lot of difference between the behavior I have seen in Latin countries and other north European or north American countries.
    I myself was asked where I came from in Boston, because I was… too dark. I thought is was funny, and it did not awake any race paranoia on me.
    A Spanish friend of mine in Germany had problems to get attended in Germany, just because he looked wrong. (ok that was 20 years ago, now situation is much better). That was then real racism, not funny gestures.

    Have you ever gone to Southamerica? I have direct relatives who would be considered “black” in the USA, even today; and if they were living there some decades ago they would be segregated.

    Have you ever seen that system south of “Rio Grande”? That is for us unthinkable.
    Monoculture? The reason why there are no ghettos in Spain is that the people get mixed quite fast. Two or three generations are enough. And I speak of direct family experience.
    No people is kept apart by ethnic reasons. You may mention the “gitanos”, but many of them prefer to keep they culture intact. Even so there is a good number of mixed families.

    By the way, the country with the greatest percentage of children adoptions from China in Europe is… Spain. I have coworkers and family friends with adopted ones. And not a few times see families with mixed children, own and adopted. Strange behavior for racist people indeed.
    (And yes, African kids are adopted too)

    You may want to see in us what you fear to see in yourself.
    Yeah, we may be naive though, of not being too careful in not waking up others peoples visceral racial paranoia.

  25. SenorSparkles Says:

    That is the rough spanish demographic breakdown.

    Ethnic Groups: European 92%, non-European groups 8%

    It’s a bit different than the US. I lived in france for awhile, and the reaction was similar.
    White frenchmen would say there is little racism here, unlike you Americans. Ask
    a person of color and the response is entirely different.

    My only claim is that there are racial issues in Spain. No paranoia here. If you can’t
    see that, you are simply blind. The stupid basketball team picture, rabid racism towards
    black athletes. It isn’t a hidden racism. It’s out in the open.

    You adopt a lot of Chinese babies. Congratulations. You have mixed families.
    Congratulations. You don’t segregate. Congratulations to your country for making
    meeting the minimal demands of a multicultural society in this new century. However,
    there have been a lot of ugly incidents in the past. To put your head in the sand and claim
    that there aren’t problems is a joke.

    Every culture has discrimination issues because there is always a majority and a minority.
    My claim is that Spain is not immune from them. Only a blind man would claim otherwise.

  26. Aorijia Says:


    I’m just “reporting” what people in Spanish forums say, not that by any means I agree with them. I’m not trying to defend their behaviour and have already stated that whoever is responsible for this ad should apologize. No need to be wary of a debate that isn’t going to take place, at least on my side. In fact, I agree with what you (and others equally appalled by this ad) wrote. There.


    Regarding your comment, I was going to link to a Spanish newspaper that says there is no racism in the photo because, apparently, they have shown it to a couple of Chinese and they didn’t know the meaning of the gesture. I have however grown ashamed of this issue, seeing that the Spaniards not only don’t apologize, but even try as hard as they can to justify it.

    I’d like to be Portuguese for a couple of weeks.

  27. SenorSparkles Says:

    Aorijia –

    I agree. Even if it is a culture misunderstanding or insensitivity, a simple
    honest apology is more than sufficient to remedy the situation. It’s
    baffling why that has been given.

  28. yo Says:

    Yep, it’s insulting and totally inappropriate.

  29. admin Says:


    If you are tired of what you have read, why don’t you bring some fresh air to this blog by posting your own entry? 🙂

  30. heiheianan Says:

    In fact that there is a pattern of this sort of behavior from Spaniards – and their clueless denials that race even exists in their enlightened minds – annoys me. They like to claim ancestry from the four corners of the globe when it’s convenient, but ask immigrants from north Africa, Colombia, China, etc how they are treated in Spain, I don’t think their comments will be so pleasant.

    It was in Spain, remember, that a Chinese-owned shoe warehouse was attacked and burned down by Spaniards protesting over cheap imported goods. I bet most people don’t know about this nasty incident, but everyone knows how the Chinese protested outside of Carrefour! Oh wait, Spain is a US ally, and their having the eight biggest economy in the world isn’t deemed a threat to freedom and liberty…


    Samuel E’to had such abuse heaped upon him during one match he wanted to WALK OFF the pitch in the middle of a match!

    Luis Aragones – coach of the Spanish side – called Thierry Henry a “black shit”, and was unrepentant afterwards.

    Spain lost 3(?) F1 races due to fans dressed in blackface to taunt a black F1 driver.

    Followers of footie such as myself will know that darker skinned players get taunted across the world, unfortunately, but it is only Spain that tends to be so dismissive of the taunting, and it is Spain where more of it seems to go on.

    Lastly, how many times has the Chinese embassy in any other western European – to say nothing of North America – recommended that Chinese merchants in a major city close shop for one day in order to avoid protests targeted specifically at Chinese?!?!?


    Sorry that last link is only in Spanish, but i guess if you know English well enough you can get the gist. Kind of maybe sort of.

    When Shaquille O’Neal and Ronaldo made the EXACT SAME gesture, there was plenty of reproachment for them.

    Spain: come for the ham, stay for the offensive gestures

  31. heiheianan Says:

    I am familiar with Spain – most people, Spain is just a “fun” destination, home to the good life, romance, siesta, etc… but its a real place with warts and some deep-seated problems, just like any other. So, to the poster who wants to say “I’ve been to South America, we are better than them” please, give us your tasty ham and olives, but keep the foolish talk.

  32. yagosawa Says:

    I’m Spanish too, the ad is quite offensive. It’s just stupid really. Shouldn’t expect anything sensible from athletes.
    Most Spanish people will do that gesture without excessive malice, they really don’t know what’s wrong about it.

  33. hotshotdebut Says:

    I do consider Spain as my second home, but sadly it does have its racial problem towards Chinese, but most of the time they are ignorance instead of downright racism. I was called chinito. Actually many Asians are called chinitos by Spaniards because they have no idea of Asia in general. My Thai friend complained once that he was called by those borrachos chinito and he was offended. I was quite tolerant I guess. I think this should teach Spaniards a lesson of racial sensitivity. On the other hand, Spain should understand China better than many people. They were looked down upon by West before. World press is not kind to Spain, either, especially this time. They export cheap labor in the 70s. They were the previous version of Made In China. They had Franco. They were poor. France even said Europe begins at Pirineos. So I think they should understand China better, which is not really a fact. Too shame the story has snowballed too much.

  34. Hemulen Says:


    Too shame the story has snowballed too much.

    I agree and this seems to be a quite universal phenomenon. I keep telling Chinese friends that both official Chinese policy and popular attitudes towards ethnic minorities in the PRC have a lot in common with the way Japanese people looked at other Asians more than half a century ago, but there is little or no willingness among many Chinese to recognize that. Somehow people seem to think that the lesson of history is to be strong and wealthy and not thinking about other issues. We’ll see…

  35. Kev Says:

    I thought the basketball team ( well, most of them ) did apologize? Anyways, we can’t let this get us down. Unity is the way to go, as well within another 500 years, i don’t think we’re gonna be able to distinguish between a lot of our ethnic backgrounds.

    I went to mexico a myriad amount of time, and almost all the time i get called ” Chino ” by the locals. When i’m with my mexican/italian friend, they call me ” sir “. Of course, I’m respectful, and adress each individual accordingly, but man… I’m not just chinese. Quit calling me that. I hate it when my parents refer to caucasians as ” white ghost “, its completely detrimental, and we’re STILL doing it. Looks like we all got kinks with our country, eh? ( I don’t even need to list mine *cough*georgewbush *cough* )

    I agree with what they did was childish and immature, but i’m glad a lot of us do not care. We’re bigger than that.

  36. SenorSparkles Says:

    Look at this. The women’s tennis team for Spain did this earlier this year.

    Same pose. More of the same typical, ignorant stuff.


    Read the apology. They didn’t even really apologize.

  37. BMY Says:

    @hemulen #34 “Somehow people seem to think that the lesson of history is to be strong and wealthy and not thinking about other issues. ”

    I agree with you about this 🙂 .

  38. antonijess Says:

    Look at this …. http://crazyveggie.wordpress.com/2007/01/09/racism-in-england-again/

    I think that should tell whether this is racism are the Chinese themselves. There is no intent to injure, on the contrary. This is a sign of admiration, respect and affection towards the culture china. Is it a problem to have their eyes torn?

  39. b Says:

    would the spaniards been insulted had the Chinese posed in gay matador pastels, added a few kg of hair grease, painted on curly mustaches, or stood in gold and armor over some freshly slaughtered S. American carcasses? Ok, that’s probably extreme, but can you see the directional anger people feel? Or, hypothetically, had the Olympics been held in Mississippi and say the Spaniards had come out for an advertisement looking like minstrels, with their faces painted black?

    I agree this is overblown, but it really puts the Spanish in a poor, ignorant light.

  40. Dandan Says:

    No offense taken, and I believe no offense intended. China has a different racial context.
    “Slanting one’s eyes can only be offensive IF SOMEONE THINKS SLANTED EYES ARE BAD FOR SOME REASON”.

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