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"It's not made in China" is not a joke

【2019.08.27 Tuesday 21:20

Prejudice or racism can come at you in some least expected forms. It is particularly true for someone living in South Africa as a Japanese person.

 

 “Where are you from?  Oh, cool, you are from Japan.  Japan is great although other Asian countries have a long way to go.”

“Love your culture.  It is so globally unique and wonderful.”

“Japanese cars are my favourite, but I wouldn’t buy any cars from other Asian countries.”

 

Do you not find these comments as prejudice against me?

 

It is great to be appreciated.

 

I have lived in different parts of Africa since the 1980’s.  I literally witnessed how hard many Japanese people tried to market Japanese products in Africa.  It wasn’t all that easy.  For many Africans, Japanese products were still very foreign in the 80s and 90s.  Getting recognition about Japanese products or culture sure is great.

 

But this does not mean that I am happy to get the credit at the expense of other Asian nations.  Those criticisms may not even have any realistic or factual grounds.

 

On top of that, many who adorn those “innocent” criticisms may not be aware of their own arrogance in saying so.

 

Whether they are conscious or not, I sense a superiority complex in their statements that say, "Japan is doing its best and keeping up with our standards."  This clearly places themselves above the “Japanese”.  Or is it clearer to put it this way: “Since Japan tried so hard, we can let Japan join our group, but the other Asian countries are not yet on par with our standards.”

 

This was once illustrated in the utterly insulting and disgraceful act of the Apartheid Government to have given Japanese residents the “Honorary Whites” title.   Japanese people were given that title purely because it was expected that it would give the Apartheid government some economic benefits.  This Honorary Whites title meant that they were announcing that the Japanese were just below the White South African status within the social and racial hierarchy.    

 

Now please look at the photos below.

 

(https://www.itsnotmadeinchina.co.za/gallery/0w9a3218-lr-jpg)

 

These are glass bottles of water produced in South Africa that use local artists’ illustrations on the front.

 

However, can you read the writing which brands their bottle?

 

“It’s not made in China”

 

I first saw these at a charity shop that I frequented to purchase local artists’ pieces.  For a long time I made sure my overseas guests first spent their money in this shop.

 

The shock I felt when I first saw these bottles still shakes me.

 

I was utterly disgusted to see how a brand name like this can be brought out to promote products in the market.  Didn’t they have any sensible member at their company to realise that this can be offensive?  And the shops who would stock this as acceptable merchandise to place on the shelves? 

 

In my view, this is a HATE speech, targeting a country.

 

Just imagine.

 

You are traveling to a foreign country and enjoying shopping.  Then you see a product and its brand is, “It’s not made in South Africa.”

 

I am offended because it is not acceptable to ridicule one country to promote a product.

 

And at this stage it is important to clearly separate some issues:  I am not talking about support of China or its foreign policies.  I am talking about the unfair activity of a company that uses a sneer to promote their own product.  What they are demonstrating is a lack of sensitivity toward human right issues.

 

I find the argument, “that since China currently has got such tremendous economic power, it is acceptable for it to be the target of some sarcasm,” deplorable.

 

Of course, in private thoughts and conversations, people are free to criticise whatever.  You can even write about it on whatever platforms you choose.  As a writer, freedom of expression is very important to me too.

 

My argument is that once it is used in promotion of a business product, it is entirely different.

 

Prejudice or racism towards ANYONE or any country or area/region must not be allowed.  This cannot be expressed strongly enough.  That’s right, China is a superpower.  But using “It’s not made in China” as a brand name is not right.

 

I did read the message of this company for using this brand.  The reason for the naming is that they wanted to promote their products differently from other big-name brands.  They wanted to stand out by saying this amongst so many products from China is not made in China.

 

They also say that they wish for people to take this as a joke.

 

When I complained to this Charity Shop, they gave me some reasons why they support the products.

 

“This is a good local company which supports the local artists.”

“We promote arts.  Freedom of expression is important to us.”

 

I was shocked to see this charity shop’s Facebook page, promoting this “It’s not made in China.” So, I made a negative comment, then I got some replies below.

 

“People lost their sense of humour.”

“China is doing some terrible things to our animals.  Chinese kill our Rhinos.”

 

I lost my words. 

My words were lost on them. 

 

Then realized that I needed to write my argument clearly.  The reason?  I think out of all the countries in the world, we live in South Africa.  I think we know how crucial it is not to allow any prejudice or racism.  What I fear is our tendency to get used to the uncomfortableness of prejudice that eventually leads us to bigger or more harmful prejudices or racism.

 

This is not humour.  China does exist.  By naming and ridiculing China for the sake of promoting a product at a cost of One Billion people?  Not justified. 

 

Of course, there may be some Chinese people who do not agree with me.  The company did mention they have received messages from Chinese who think it is cool. 

 

But as a company, if they did not mean to ridicule China by using the brand at the beginning, and their prejudice was pointed out, wouldn’t they have the social responsibility to consider dropping the brand?  

 

Freedom of speech.  Yes, we should protect our Freedom of Speech by all means, however this does not give anyone any right to say whatever they want to say.

 

Finally, “China kills our Rhinos.”  This falls under a category of argument, so called, “Whataboutism,” as in, “What about China killing our Rhinos?” But we are not talking about the Rhino poaching now. Mixing up issues like this confuses the original arguments and they are not to be compared. 

 

To close, allow me to share some comments from my Chinese friends.

 

“Sad.”

“That is racism.”

“But we get these kinds of criticisms all the time.  That’s just one of them.  Ungrounded and unfair.”

Lastly, a bit long, but my American friend of Chinese heritage gave me this comment:

 

Sounds harmless. All lives matter. That one sounded pretty good, too. Maybe it’s a joke. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe there was malice behind it. Many years ago, slanted eyes was just a joke. Or maybe it wasn’t. Chinese characters on TV had an overbite twice the size of Freddy Mercury’s. Just a joke, right?  I hope we can educate the world a little better. It may never be perfect, but one step at a time, let’s tell them that jokes at the expense of a billion people aren’t really all that funny. Jokes at the expense of even fewer people are worse.
 

I have been happily living in South Africa since 2003 as an East Asian immigrant.  I feel it is my duty, as a result of my love for South Africa, to publish my thoughts on this issue.

 

We are better than this.

 

 

author : y-mineko
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吉村 峰子
writer
English & Japanese
language instructor
interpreter
(Japanese - English)