(Mis)representation of Chinese Culture

In November of 2018 Dolce and Gabbana wanted to promote a fashion show they were holding in Shanghai.  D&G posted three videos (advertisements) on various social media platforms to promote that show.  Translated on YouTube as “Eating with Chopsticks,” it features a female Chinese model trying to eat pizza, cannoli, and spaghetti with said chopsticks.  The videos went viral in China, and in going viral, a backlash ensued.  People became upset at D&G.  Angry.  Defiant.  While there’s more to the story, and it gets into a complicated case of alleged hacking of Instagram accounts and racist messages sent through the platform, these resources will deal with only the three videos themselves. 

Our class isn’t IB Business and Management or IB Economics.  We aren’t concerned with whether D&G survive as a company in China or if they fail (and why).  Instead, we’re interested in mass media and the big conceptual ideas around these adverts: identity, culture, and representation.  

According to Alina Ma, associate director of research at market insights firm Mintel, as quoted in a BBC article, “the advert had left Chinese consumers confused and appeared to show the company did not understand them.  They want a brand that knows them, that makes them feel that they are important.”

How does a luxury Italian fashion brand demonstrate to their Chinese customers that they “know them” and that “they are important”?  As D&G continue to try to grow their brand name in China, they will have to tackle that question.  And that question gets to the key concepts of identity and culture in our course.   

The following set of resources, materials, and activities will allow your students to think deeply about the intersection between the media and culture and what happens when companies get it wrong. 

D&G Promotional Videos (3 of them)

Have students follow the steps below.  You will need to watch each promotional video one by one (you’ll have to stop the videos at the right moment). 

  1. Watch the 1st advertisement (pizza).
  2. What were your initial reactions? Think about what you saw, heard, read in the subtitles, and anything else in the video that you think is worth analyzing.Spend 5 minutes writing about them and why.
  3. Discuss those initial reactions with a partner (pair/share) – 4 minutes                        
  4. Watch the 2nd advertisement (cannoli)
  5. What were your initial reactions? Think about what you saw, heard, read in the subtitles, and anything else in the video that you think is worth analyzing.Spend 5 minutes writing about them and why.
  6. Discuss those initial reactions with a partner (pair/share) – 4 minutes
  7. Watch the 3rd advertisement (spaghetti)
  8. What were your initial reactions? Think about what you saw, heard, read in the subtitles, and anything else in the video that you think is worth analyzing.Spend 5 minutes writing about them and why.
  9. Discuss those initial reactions with a partner (pair/share) – 4 minutes

10 Questions (for all of the advertisements)

After students watch all three promotional videos (advertisements), have students answer the following 10 questions.  The answers to these questions will provide more close and critical analysis of them, often connecting to the key concepts of representation, identity, and culture.

  1. How is the Chinese model presented in this advertisement? Why does it matter? Write about her actions, appearance, facial expressions, and more.
  2. What are the various ways in which D&G depict China and Chinese people? Why does it matter?
  3. What are the various objects and/or symbols used to depict Chinese culture and why?
  4. How is Italian culture presented here and why?
  5. Discuss the impact and effect of the sounds at the start of the advertisement? What are they and why are they used?
  6. There is a male voice off-stage (not present). Why and what effect does it have on the audience?
  7. What words and phrases are used to describe the pizza? What connotations do they have and why?
  8. What words and phrases are used to describe the chopsticks? What connotations do they have and why?
  9. Noodles and pasta are very similar yet they are depicted as quite different in the 3rd video. How so and why?
  10. Overall, how do the advertisements represent an aspect of the culture of a particular place and group of people?

Whole Class Discussion

Now that you’ve watched the videos, recorded initial reactions to them, talked about them with a partner, and analyzed them in closer detail and depth, discuss them as a whole class.

Are these videos offensive and racist?  Support your claims with evidence and connect to the key concepts of identity, culture, and representation.

Further Discussion

Read the linked Facebook post (an open letter) to Dolce and Gabbana from a university student in the United States.  In many ways, it is like what you need to do for your Written Task 1.  But, it’s also lacking in other ways.

Discuss the following questions in pairs or as a small group: in what ways does the author make her purpose clear and where does she need to provide more specific evidence and analysis to support her claims? 

Extra  - D&G Apology Video

InThinking has published resources on "How to Apologize."  You can compare and contrast this apology video to the print advertisements by Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) if you want to extend this lesson into the language surrounding asking for forgiveness.

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