The Chinese firm behind this shocking ad have apologised and pulled it off the air.

The Shanghai Leishang Cosmetics company’s detergent advertisement, which shows a black man being stuffed into a washing machine and transformed into a fair-skinned Asian, is quite the head-scratcher.

The ad, for the Qiaobi brand, features a black man winking at a Chinese woman, who calls him over and then surprises him by stuffing a detergent packet into his mouth and forcing him into a washing machine.

The Chinese woman sits on the lid of the washing machine while the black man cries out. Moments later, a fair-skinned Asian man emerges from the washing machine, and the Chinese woman looks pleased with the transformation.

It’s a stunning example of literal “whitewashing” that has sparked a conversation about China’s racism problem, but the company initially seemed shocked that anyone took offence.

“We meant nothing but to promote the product, and we had never thought about the issue of racism,” a spokesperson told China’s Global Times.

“The foreign media might be too sensitive about the ad.”

Now, however, the company has back-pedalled, apologising for the ad and pulling it off the air.

“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.

“We sincerely hope the public and the media will not over-read it. We express regret that the ad has caused a controversy, but we will not shun responsibility for controversial content.”

The ad has drawn accusations of plagiarism, as well as racism. It’s extremely similar to an Italian commercial that first aired nine years ago, in which a white man is forced into a washing machine and emerges as a black man.

Last year, Chinese posters for Star Wars: The Force Awakens caused controversy when they minimised the role of black actor John Boyega.

Can you believe somebody thought this ad was a good idea? Have your say in the comments below!