Her new music video sparks a racially charged conversation on Sina Weibo.
The music video for Rihanna and Coldplay's duet "Princess of China" portrays the country with heavily stylized Asian stereotypes, some of which aren't even about China. We have the flying martial artists of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the elongating eye makeup common in older Western films about China such as 1944's Dragon Seed, and the many arms of Indian goddess Kali.
But the roughly 1.5 million Chinese micro-bloggers who
responded to the video by the time this post was published weren't too concerned
by the video's racially charged and culturally simplified depiction, which has generated some controversy in the U.S.
Instead, many Weibo users are tickled that an Afro-Caribbean pop star portrayed a Chinese princess.
"This Princess of China is a little dark-skinned," wrote user Daniel-Lin-SH.
User Kensou-Lee, who claims to be undergoing military training, asked, "When I return, will I be so tan that I will be as black as the Princess of China?"
China, in its search for natural resources and influence abroad, has engaged in a soft power push in Africa to modernize the continent with infrastructural development and investments. A shared colonial experience has allowed China to establish a kind of cachet with Africa, helping to develop strong economic and diplomatic ties.
Diverting from the Beijing Party line on solidarity with black-skinned people, many Chinese refer to Africans working and studying in China as hei gui -- literally black devils. Popular Chinese perceptions of the global black community can sometimes be unflattering, and this complicated relationship might be coming through in Chinese web users' reactions to the Rihanna video.
Some micro-bloggers weren't as concerned about Rihanna's race as her overall physical attributes as a musician charged with playing Chinese.
"So this is how foreigners envision a Princess of China... I can't help but say that Ri Ri's forehead does bear a lot of longevity," said Bixiaomao, referring to the traditional Chinese practice of fortune-telling based on facial characteristics.
Others weren't upset by the video at all, but see it as a sign that Chinese soft power is making its way Westward.
"Coldplay's Princess of China, a Chinese wind is blowing abroad," wrote chrislovenutrition.