30 September 2023
Fact checkFalse

False: Tea culture event falsely described as ‘enslavement’ of black people in China

The black women seen picking tea leaves in the video are international students attending a tea-harvesting event in Jiangxi province.

A tweet on March 30 implied China is practicing slavery with a video screenshot showing black women picking tea leaves, which was juxtaposed with an illustration of what looks like an antebellum cotton plantation featuring slaves.

It has around 300 likes and 100 retweets as of this writing.

The claim is false. The video shows tourists, including students from Tanzania and Pakistan at Yichun University,  taking part in a cultural event in Jiangxi province. 

The Chinese text on the screenshot says, when translated to English, “Have you seen foreign ladies picking tea leaves? The right time [season] to harvest spring tea on the Mingyue mountain of Yichun city. Foreign friends turned into tea farmers picking tea leaves.”

Screenshot of text overlay describing the video

Another Chinese text overlay of the video indicates it was filmed on March 25.

The screenshot also tagged Yuanguang News, which, according to its profile, is an account affiliated with a government department in charge of culture, press, publication, and tourism in Yuanzhou District in Yichun City.

Annie Lab tried to locate the original video about this cultural event, but it seems to have been taken down. In the process, however, we found another video on Douyin about the same event.

The title of this video posted by a Douyin account, “Yuanzhou Publication (袁州发布),” which is also affiliated with the local government, suggested that over a thousand tourists have experienced tea leafpicking there.

The same black women shown in the misleading tweet all appear in the footage.

Screenshots of the video posted by Yuanzhou Publication

Students’ participation was organized by Yichun University, according to its press release published by Weixin.

The article said about 50 exchange students from Pakistan and Tanzania joined the Yichun Yangshan Zen Tea cultural event.

A news article by the People’s Daily Jiangxi Channel also reported on the same event.

Annie Lab also found this Twitter video showing the same group of black women at the event.

The Twitter video shows a Tanzanian student being interviewed during the event

The video featured an interview with one of the women who identified her name as “娜娜” (Nana). The Tanzanian student from Yichun University said she enjoyed the tea harvesting event.

“This place is beautiful. It teaches me about Chinese tea culture. I like it very much,” she said in Mandarin.

Screenshot from the PBS episode showing the same slavery illustration

We also looked into the illustration of a cotton plantation used in the tweet in question.

Through image search, we found a documentary titled “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” that featured the same image.

It’s an episode from “The Cotton Economy and Slavery” series by Public Broadcasting Service, an American public broadcaster, released on Oct. 29, 2013.

Annie Lab also found that in China, mockery of African students with this kind of video equating tea harvesting to the slave trade history surrounding cotton plantations is prevalent.

A 2020 academic journal article titled “Historical and contemporary perspectives on inequalities and well-being of Africans in China” estimated that there were around 500,000 Africans in China, with a large group of them living in Guangzhou, a southern city in China.

Discrimination against black people has been well-documented in the country while the economic ties between Beijing and the nations in the African continent have strengthened with more and more African traders and immigrants moving to China.

Reportedly, there have been institutional barriers and outright discrimination against them by the police and restaurant owners who refuse their entries.