"Black man toothpaste": consumerism and racial politics in early 20th-century China

Any visitor to Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Mainland China who forgot to pack their toothpaste will likely have passed by, if not noticed, the shelf space given to one brand of dentifrice: "Darlie," with the large, arresting, black-and-white logo of a broadly beaming man in a top hat with, as some racist Chinese bloggers have derisively noted, a resemblance to the forty-fourth U.S. President, Barack Obama. "Darlie" smiles at potential consumers from under two equally eye-catching Chinese characters, 黑人 heiren, "Black man." This work probes the origins of "Darlie's" blatant use of race and racially exploitative representations in the Republican era (1912-1949) of Chinese history as a case of how race, exoticism, and transnational consumerist capitalism have fused in China's twentieth century--and continue to be deeply imbricated in the twenty-first. 

Principal Investigator: Yvon Wang