Air China magazine apologises over ‘racist’ article

“London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people,” a magazine from Air China read.

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BEIJING // The publisher of Chinese national carrier Air China’s in-flight magazine apologised on Thursday for allegedly “racist” travel advice offered to passengers visiting London, as mainland social media users rushed to defend the controversial tips.

The incident prompted London MP Virendra Sharma, who emigrated from India to Britain in the 1960s, to complain to the Chinese government, demanding an apology.

“I am shocked and appalled that even today some people would see it as acceptable to write such blatantly untrue and racist statements,” he said.

The latest issue of Wings of China ran an article detailing safety tips to travellers based on the race and nationality of local residents.

“London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people,” the article said in English translation below a Chinese text, according to a photograph published by CNBC.

“We advise tourists not to go out alone at night, and females always to be accompanied by another person when travelling,” it added.

The Chinese version was worded slightly differently, stating that such neighbourhoods were “comparatively more chaotic” – an adjective often used to describe dangerous areas.

The English translation prompted

In a Chinese-language statement on Thursday, the publisher attributed the “inappropriate descriptions” to editorial errors, stating that they were at odds with the “original intention to actively promote the beautiful scenery of London”.

It described itself as a third-party organisation, although Air China’s own website describes the magazine as “an authoritative information resource of Air China Group and Air China”.

The publisher apologised that the text had “misled” a number of media outlets and readers and damaged Air China’s brand image.

But on Chinese social media, most commenters were baffled at the backlash.

In a common refrain, one user of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform asked: “This is just stating the truth – what is there to apologise about?”

Another queried: “There are more rapists and robbers there anyway – why is saying this discriminatory?”

Many said they felt the advice was valuable.

“We can’t satisfy everyone, but we certainly must put Chinese people’s safety first,” one user stated.

Discussion and public awareness of racism in China is notoriously low, often resulting in viral scandals that spark global outrage beyond the Great Firewall but cause nary a whimper of concern within the mainland.

In May, an ad by a Chinese detergent maker depicting a black man stuffed into a washing machine and transformed into a fair-skinned Asian stoked outcry abroad, initially dismissed by the company as overly sensitive.

China often portrays itself as the victim of discrimination at the hands of foreign media, and many on Weibo expressed indignation at what they saw as hypocritical finger-pointing from those in the West.

“We don’t owe black people, Indians or Pakistanis anything; we never trafficked slaves or colonised India and Pakistan,” wrote one user.

* Agence France-Presse