Chinese TV features blackface performers in New Year's gala

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An ethnic Chinese man wearing lights joss stick during the Lunar New Year celebration at a temple in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

BEIJING – Chinese state TV included dancers in blackface portraying Africans in a holiday gala for the second time in three years, prompting criticism online, as Asia welcomed the Year of the Ox with muted festivities amid travel curbs to contain renewed coronavirus outbreaks.

The “African Song and Dance” performance Thursday came at start of the Spring Festival Gala, one of the world’s most-watched TV programs. It included Chinese dancers in African-style costumes and dark face makeup beating drums.

The five-hour annual program, which state TV has said in the past is seen by as many as 800 million viewers, also included tributes to nurses, doctors and others who fought the coronavirus pandemic that began in central China in late 2019.

Festivities for the holiday, normally East Asia's busiest tourism season, are muted after China, Vietnam, Taiwan and other governments tightened travel curbs and urged the public to avoid big gatherings following renewed virus outbreaks.

China's ruling Communist Party tries to promote an image of unity with African nations as fellow developing economies. But China Central Television has faced criticism over using blackface to depict African people in past New Year broadcasts.

On Twitter, Black Livity China, a group for people of African descent who work in or with China, called the broadcast “extremely disappointing.” It noted CCTV’s 2018 Spring Festival Gala featured performers in blackface with a monkey.

“We cannot stress enough the impact scenes such as these have on African and Afro-diasporic communities living in China,” the group said.

Elsewhere in China, Buddhist and Daoist temples that usually are packed with holiday worshippers were closed. Streets in major cities were largely empty.