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GM pulls 'chop suey' retro TV ad

Even though they're tough to hear, the soundtrack's lyrics prompt allegations of racism.

By Clifford Atiyeh May 2, 2013 9:24AM
General Motors is pulling a television advertisement after a Hong Kong newspaper blamed the company for being racist against the Chinese.

The ad in question was for the Chevrolet Trax, a subcompact crossover branded in the U.S. as the Buick Encore, that has been running for weeks in European and Canadian markets. A report from the South China Morning Post dug into the ad's soundtrack, which featured a remixed version of a 1938 jazz swing recording, with lyrics referring to Chinese women "saying ching, ching, chop suey, swing some more."

"Referring to China as 'the land of Fu Manchu,' where people say, 'Ching-ching, chop suey,' might have been considered acceptable, even amusing, when the lyrics were originally penned in the U.S. in the 1930s," the newspaper wrote. "But the distinction between modern norms and those of the swing era seemed to have been lost on General Motors' advertising executives."

GM has since pulled the ad online and edited the lyrics, a remix from Austrian DJ Parov Stelar, from the TV versions. Neither the ad nor the Chevrolet Trax are marketed in China.

The ad itself is clever and appears to borrow from the Oscar-winning Woody Allen film "Midnight in Paris," in which a romantic screenwriter played by Owen Wilson hops into a car with Ernest Hemingway and rushes back in time. With the Trax ad, the opposite happens, as a young man from Hemingway's time carpools and goes out clubbing with modern 20-somethings. The lyrics themselves, if not for the hefty explanation from Hong Kong, are barely discernible to the ear.

Still, GM -- the biggest foreign automaker in China -- can't stand to lose ground in the world's largest car market. In October, Chinese buyers began boycotting Toyota, Honda and other Japanese brands as Japan escalated a long-battled political dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Sales have yet to recover.

Other controversial car ads have been getting the boot. A week earlier, Hyundai pulled a U.K. TV ad that made light of suicide after showing a man trying to kill himself in his garage with the car running, only to fail because the vehicle was a hydrogen-powered Hyundai that emits only water vapor. In March, print concepts from Ford's Indian ad agency appeared to condone kidnapping the Kardashian sisters and highlighting raunchy thoughts of group sex.

Focus group, anyone?

[Source: South China Morning Post via Detroit News]
May 2, 2013 1:16PM
The only thing that seems to offend ME is that people find so much to be offended by.  Perhaps they just need to "pull up their big girl/boy panties and deal with it".......
May 2, 2013 1:20PM
im offended by all the chinese imports here in the U.S. pull them
May 2, 2013 1:25PM
It seems like we now have a new worldwide industry, searching for things to take offense at!
May 2, 2013 1:18PM
May 2, 2013 1:27PM
May 2, 2013 1:29PM
Where is the racism, I don't see it????
May 2, 2013 1:21PM
Thank you Hong Kong News and to think I was going to buy one of these racist cars...Get a grip...lighten up...or I'll get some dental floss and blind fold all of you...
May 2, 2013 1:24PM
This political correctness BS makes me sick. I have been called ****, Honky, Shorty, Hillbilly, Redneck, Jethro and every other name in the book. It doesn't bother me one bit until they call me a republican......LMAO
May 2, 2013 1:22PM
i like it the way it is, better then any chevy add in the USA
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