Chinese sellers are facing backlash for selling personalized photos and videos featuring African children through Chinese online marketplace Taobao. As reported by Beijing Youth Daily, these photos and videos have recently become popular as a means of conveying messages for birthdays and other important occasions. They can be purchased for as little as $1, like the services offered on the Fiverr freelance marketplace.
The photos can be ordered from any number of Taobao sellers and show young children from African countries like Zambia holding a board with a purchased message, usually around 16-20 characters. Short videos can also be purchased, where a person behind the camera instructs children on how to recite the message in Mandarin. For these photos and videos, sellers typically charge between ¥10 ($1.50) and ¥200 ($30), promising delivery within a few days.
Taobao online market video
Like sixth tone notes, the posts are popular with both individuals and businesses who use videos as an inexpensive way to create advertisements. In one clip, a group of children shout at the camera in Mandarin, “Do you want to see cute girls? Use Jike! Want funny stories? Use Jike! Want GIFs? Use Jike! Only 10 yuan, really great! sixth tone says other videos show children reciting swear words in Mandarin and advertising X-rated live streams.
the Hong Kong Free Press says some sellers insist on their pages that the videos are a form of ‘charitable activity’, but when asked how much money goes directly to children and their families, they had no answer . “I do this out of the goodness of my heart,” said a salesperson. HKFP. “I don’t know how much money we give to children. Sorry.” Beijing Youth Daily spoke to a photographer who said kids often only get snacks or a few dollars for completing a batch of photos and videos. An anonymous source echoed the lack of pay when speaking with People’s Daily Online, saying, “Children make very little money filming such commercials. Most of them simply receive snacks or stationery as a reward.
While some Chinese netizens are expressing concern about the unethical nature of the photos and videos, others seem to have no issues with the service. One person wrote on the Chinese media website The paper: “These Africans are helping to advertise, have also been rewarded, and have not been coerced, what is the problem?” Shanghaiistthe international division of the blog gothamistshared the story with the caption, “Racist? Exploitative? Or just good marketing?”
Seller sixth tone spoke says cultural differences are the reason there is such a fascination with videos. According to the seller, their popularity can be attributed to “China’s obsession with all things foreign”.
“A lot of people here have never been out of the country – they haven’t seen foreigners,” the seller said. “So they think it would definitely be interesting for foreigners to do commercials for them.” Similarly, a member of the China Africa Project recounts The Huffington post, “The vast majority of Chinese you meet on the streets of Guangzhou have probably never interacted with someone of another race or ethnicity.”
Comparable video services have been found and abused in other countries. Fiverr sellers drew backlash in 2015 for selling videos featuring Indian children that were targeted at Americans. Similarly, children posed with blackboards containing purchased messages, and they also read the messages for short videos. Many were obscene. Earlier this year, YouTube personality PewDiePie used the platform to pay two young Indian men to hold up a banner reading ‘Death to all Jews’, leading to the vlogger being dropped by YouTube and Disney.
Taobao said it is investigating some of the vendors who engage in this practice, but only because some videos violate Chinese advertising law by using superlatives such as “best” and “strongest” to describe products.