A Chinese detergent maker has apologised for an advertisement which shows a black man stuffed into a washing machine and transformed into a fair-skinned Asian, just a day after dismissing critics as too sensitive.
The advertisement by the Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics company provoked an uproar on US news websites, with commentators citing it as an example of racist attitudes towards black people in China.
Its commercial for the "Qiaobi" brand shows a black man whistling and winking at a young Chinese woman, who calls him over, puts a detergent packet into his mouth and forces him head-first into a washing machine.
She sits on the lid while the man shrieks. Moments later an Asian man emerges in clean clothes and the woman grins.
The advert has been viewed more than seven million times on YouTube in the past three days.
"For the harm caused to the African people because of the spread of the advert and the over-amplification by the media, we express our apology,” the company said in a statement on an official social media account.
“We sincerely hope the public and the media will not over-read it,” the statement added.
“We express regret that the ad has caused a controversy, but we will not shun responsibility for controversial content.”
The firm said in the statement posted late Saturday it had stopped airing the advertisement and deleted links to it.
A spokesman had earlier told China's Global Times newspaper that the issue of racism had not crossed the company's mind and "the foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad".
The advertisement attracted little attention in China, which has historically experienced almost no settlement by people of African descent.
Traditional attitudes prizing white skin in women have contributed to bias against dark-skinned people.