How Chinese vendors are making money from videos of African children
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A video showing African children chanting racist slogans in Chinese sparked a wave of anger on social media when it was posted in mid-February. The FRANCE 24 Observers team investigated this video as well as the wider Chinese market for videos of African children.
On 16 February, the Ghanaian YouTuber Wode Maya posted a video that one of his followers had sent him. The first few seconds of the video show a group of 18 children wearing red outfits decorated with what appear to be white dragons. In the middle of the group, there is a blackboard with a phrase written in Chinese that children start chanting, repeating after the person who is filming the video: “I’m a black monster. I have a very low IQ!” Then, they all start dancing.
The video of the African children starts three seconds into the video by Wode Maya.
"They are exploiting our culture"Wode Maya, whose real name is Berthold Ackon, spent several years in China studying aeronautical engineering. He first saw the racist video on 10 February and decided to speak out about it on his YouTube channel. In his own video, he says that African governments should take action to stop this kind of exploitative practice. His video has garnered more than 100,000 views.
Lots of Chinese people come to Africa to film this kind of video and then sell them on Taobao [China’s version of Amazon]. These people are exploiting our culture. The person who made this video is exploiting African children by putting them on YouTube and Chinese social media. The children don’t understand what they are saying. This kind of video destroys trust between China and Africa. It’s scandalous.
This video was widely criticised on social media. “This video is extremely frustrating... Don’t buy these videos! [...] The people who made this video don’t have a conscience!" posted one person.
Publication posted on Weibo on 18 February.
A #Chinese man let those #African kids shout those characters on black board in Chinese: "I am a black monster! My IQ is low! Yeah!".Uyghur from E.T☪ (@Uyghurspeaker) February 13, 2020
Poor kids don't understand what is that means.
说到歧视，大家自己看看。#China #Africa #racism #colonialism pic.twitter.com/lA4JHbWhCi
"These poor children don’t understand what they're saying!” tweeted this person on 13 February.
According to several people on social media, this video was originally posted on Weibo on 10 February by an account called “The Jokes on Black People Club.”
This post has since been deleted. But we typed the words that the children are singing in Chinese into a search engine and managed to pull up the original post and the comments left on it.
The first post featuring this video (which is visible in archives of this account) includes a laughing smiley and a comment which says: “The people who made this video have poor taste.”
In order to find similar videos, we took a screengrab of the video, zoomed in and cropped an image just showing the matching shirt that all of the children were wearing.
We then ran this photo through a reverse image search on the Russian search engine Yandex. We pulled up similar videos, apparently filmed in the same location.
“It’s been so long since we last saw each other! I’m coming back!” reads the caption on this video.
We found several similar videos shared by one user on Huoshan, a Chinese video-sharing app. This account is called: “Film crew for videos of Africans singing happy birthday.” There are a lot of videos of children, but also other videos showing muscled men and naked young women. The videos are all very similar. The group chants something in Chinese (very often “happy birthday” or other well wishes) before starting to dance.
Our team got in touch with the administrator of this account, who says that he films some of the videos for sale. The racist video doesn’t feature on his account, but we asked him about it. The administrator wouldn’t reveal the identity of the person behind that video, but he said that it was filmed in Malawi in 2018. He claimed that the person who filmed that video hasn’t made any more since because he was scared by the wave of anger that followed the video's release.
10 euros a pop
Wode Maya says that there have been videos featuring African children for sale in China since at least 2015. A 2017 BBC article also looked into this exploitative trend. Most of the videos are made and sold by Chinese nationals living in Africa.
The captions always just say “Africa” - never specifying the country where it was filmed. Most of the time, the words the children say aren’t racist - they are often good wishes or ads for a company.
Then they are sold on Chinese social media for about a hundred yuan (equivalent to about 10 euros). A personalised message (like adding someone’s first name, for example) costs a bit more. People in China buy the videos as birthday gifts for friends and family.
This video, which was posted on Facebook on March 27, shows children advertising the company Morning Li Team. The company's phone number is on the blackboard.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team, posing as potential customers, contacted some of these vendors on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent to WhatsApp.
One of the vendors, who goes by the pseudonym “Frère Chung”, said we could buy a video for 109 yuan, roughly equivalent to 14 euros. It’s a quick process: the customer orders a video on WeChat, specifies what he wants the children to say, and then pays via the application. The video is sent over in just a few days.
Videos already sparked a wave of controversy in 2017
The FRANCE 24 Observers team showed the video featuring African children singing “I’m a black monster” to several vendors. Most of them said it was just a “joke”. One of them, who runs a Facebook page called “Production of videos featuring messages from African children – birthday / marriage proposals / ads”, told us that this kind of video is rare. "If a customer asks us to get the children to say a message that seems wrong to us, then we won’t make the video. This kind of content harms our business,” he said.
There’s been controversy over these videos in the past. In 2017, Taobao closed several accounts that were selling this kind of video. According to the media outlet Hong Kong Free Press, Taobao decided to close these accounts after the videos got a lot of criticism. However, it’s not clear if Taobao chose to close the accounts because they were illegal, ran counter to the platform policy or simply to end the debate.
A website whose name roughly translates as "Personalised signs in African videos” is entirely dedicated to the sale of these videos.
In April 2020, the FRANCE 24 Observers team counted several dozen accounts selling these videos on Chinese social media like Huoshan and Weibo and even on Facebook and YouTube. If you search the keywords “African children with signs China” in Chinese on Google or on social media, you’ll find hundreds of similar videos for sale.
There are no official figures on the number of vendors or how much money they make from the sale of these videos.
Article by Marie Genries.