A “foreigner” in my own country, “yellow” people, and other funny Chinese racial talk

Once a wàiguórén, always a wàiguórén
We’re so used to hearing it that I didn’t think about it at the time: my ESL student from Beijing was using wàiguórén (外国人; foreigner) to refer to the white people in a Vancouver shopping mall this weekend. Then while we were shopping for Chinese DVDs a group of college-age Chinese girls passed us. One of them said in Mandarin to her friends, “Those foreigners are speaking Chinese!” I’d heard that Mainlanders sometimes talk this way even when they’re the foreigners, but this was my first time hearing it for myself.

Is there a term for this? “Middle Kingdom syndrome” or something? These people talk like they already own the whole world! ;)

Yellow people
One time the retired guys on the neighbourhood bike repair corner stopped me and Jessica to have a discussion about our respective colours: “She’s white, and we’re yellow, but what are you?” (I’m a white guy who was once mistaken for an Indo-Canadian.)

When Mainlanders call themselves ‘yellow’ the meaning has several connotations: the ‘yellow earth’, ‘yellow emperor’, Yellow River, yellow skin; China and Chinese are ‘yellow’ but not in the same way as the older, racist American ‘yellow’.

Whites are stronger, African Americans are faster, Africans more energy-efficient
Last week a Chinese guy we know here in Vancouver matter-of-factly unpacked his theory about the differences between races: whites are bigger and stronger than Chinese, but African Americans have stronger joints and that’s why they’re faster than whites and Chinese. Africans are skinnier and can live on less food. Chinese generally have weaker constitutions than everyone else.

Of course some of the ways Mainlanders can treat outsiders provokes my culture stress, and “racist” is occasionally an accurate description of some commonly heard conversation. But I love the way people sometimes discuss perceived racial differences (or any topic considered sensitive in the West) in that bluntly Chinese matter-of-fact way without malice and with zero regard for Western political correctness. It makes me chuckle at both our cultures. Talk that’s totally innocent in China is a cultural sin where I grew up, and using it can be a total gas for people like me from the socially liberal West Coast.

Anyone else experience funny Chinese racial talk?

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35 thoughts on “A “foreigner” in my own country, “yellow” people, and other funny Chinese racial talk”

  1. yeah I saw that, too. part of it was funny, like the first three. But other parts obviously aren’t… don’t know if that’s says more about China, or more about the internet in general.

  2. “Racism” is never in Chinese minds. It is hard for Chinese to understand racism or racial sensitivity in the West. We think Chinese is one race, non-Chinese are of other races, that’s all – no discrimination or racial superiority implied when we distinguish “Chinese” and “foreigners”. As a matter of fact, we are of different races! We don’t have racism issues, so we are not sensitive to racial differences or racial talks at all. (That talking about racial differences is sensitive can only prove that racial problems exist.)

    No kidding! “Foreigners” does not have anything to do with “Middle Kingdom cyndrom”. Cannot imagine linking it with racism. That’s typically “using foreign concept to understand Chinese”.

  3. This blog post makes fun of both Chinese and Western cultures a little bit, but in a good way, not a mean way. It’s funny that Chinese people go to Canada and still call Canadians “foreigners” (because it sounds like they think China owns the whole world, or that China is the center of the world, and so anyone who’s not Chinese is a foreigner)! It’s also funny when innocent Chinese talk about racial differences makes Canadians uncomfortable (because Canadians are often too sensitive and too easily offended; too “politically correct”).

    I’ve heard that Chinese and native English speakers understand the English word “racism” differently. I don’t know if that’s true, but your response seems to reflect this. I’ve heard that when Chinese hear the word “racist” they think of the most extreme racism like Hitler and the Nazis. But usually when we talk about racism we aren’t referring to extreme things like that. Racism usually refers to more common racial prejudice, like assuming bad things about someone just because they are a different race.

    When I used the word “racist” near the end of this blog post, I’m not saying China has racial problems like Nazi Germany. And I’m not saying that all Chinese people are racists (saying that would be racist!). I said that it’s common to sometimes hear racist comments in China. Unfortunately, that’s true.

    I agree with you that sometimes when foreigners think a Chinese person is being racist, they are just “using foreign concept to understand Chinese” and those foreigners are wrong. But other times, like when my Tianjin friends are afraid of a black person in public for no reason, or when my Taiwan boss says many buxibans won’t hire black English teachers because the parents are less likely to send their kids to a black teacher — these are examples of racism and racial prejudice.

    Also, “racial” and “racism” are different. “Racial talk” means “talk about race” and it’s not bad. So the title “funny Chinese racial talk” just means “funny ways that Chinese people talk about race.” It’s not calling Chinese people “racist.” If I wanted to do that, I would have said “Chinese racist talk.”

    Too bad. This is supposed to be a lighthearted post!

  4. Yup, we still refer to non-Asians as 老外 (“old-foreigner”) or sometimes, even, 鬼子 (something along the lines of “foreign devil”). Nowadays, though, the term simply refers to those who aren’t Chinese, from a relative perspective (not that some believe China “owns the whole world”…etc.).

    From my personal experience, even nowadays, in a city as large as Beijing, in a place as trendy as 西单(Xi-dan), Chinese people often openly stare at Westerners as if they were aliens from outer space. I’ve come to realize that they’re not being rude or anything — it’s simply a cultural difference.

    So in Vancouver now? Heading back to TianJin anytime soon?

    (Subscribed!)

  5. Yeah, it’s just funny ’cause of how it comes across. 外国人 often means “non-Chinese” more than it means “foreigner” — I assume they aren’t assuming sovereignty in the name of 中华。 ;)

    Wow, people really still use 鬼子? What’s the feeling when people use it here? Would they be embarrassed if a 老外 overheard them and said something about it? What if a 鬼子 used it in reference to himself and other 鬼子 – how would that come across? And how is it different from 洋鬼子? ha, so many questions.

    I agree about the staring and cultural difference. Some folks get really annoyed at that and think people should be taught to behave differently. I’d rather that we were just all open and honest about our mutual curiosity and learn to get used to each other that way. It’d be way more fun!

  6. It’s definitely a widespread thing to call locals 老外 or 外国人. I’ve been back in Canada for about a year now and I’ve caught quite a few people using it. Once I heard a guy telling his friend“你别生气,老外都是这样子” to which I pointed out “在加拿大你们是老外”. To his shock, he replied, “你会讲国语吗?” and I replied “我当然会讲英语和法语,我是当地人!”

    As Mandarin becomes an international language, there are many words that will be altered to fit in, whether or not people will like it. English was altered and shared amongst the world, so why not Mandarin?

    I have a group of Chinese and local friends who all speak Mandarin when we get together. So far, we’ve come across other words that aroused laughter. We made a list including 老外,外国人,当地人,本地人, 国语,国内 and 国外。 We established the following rules of usage: In China, 老外and外国人 hold their original meaning, 国语 means Mandarin, while 国内 means China and 国外 means everywhere else. However, in Canada, we get to call my Chinese friends 老外 and 外国人, to the exception of when we find ourselves in an authentic Chinese restaurant or a Chinese supermarket, where they receive 老外 immunity. At all other times, we locals are referred to as 当地人. 国语 can either mean French or English, 国内 means in Canada, and 国外 is outside of Canada.

    Laughter and fun is had by all.

  7. “English was altered and shared amongst the world, so why not Mandarin?”

    Old habits die hard. You are right, it would be good that some of these problematic phrases that offend the uninitiated and make the rest of us laugh do get phased out. But judging from the example of Hong Kong where the Cantonese for White people is still 鬼佬 after a century and a half of British rule, I am not sure things will change anytime soon. Although it is being discouraged for PC reasons, there are usually no malice intended with the use of the term. It does not equate or is deemed as derogatory, unlike say, calling a Chinese a Chink in English-speaking countries. 外国人 or 外国朋友 or 加拿大朋友 etc., are the polite alternatives.

    Many of my good 外国朋友 who’d lived in Hong Kong for at least 15years and up with PR status are addressed by their local friends, colleagues, Church associates as 鬼佬 John, 鬼佬Peter, or 鬼妹Mary, and their children 鬼仔 Junior and 鬼妹仔Jane. I know it sounds wierd, but that’s how it is in Hong Kong.

  8. I’ve long joked about the use of 外国人。 I will sometimes say “你们外国人。。。“ when referring to Chinese here in the U.S. and it never fails to bring them up short.

    I also once (in jest… we were kidding around) called a girl “zhong guo guizi” after she jokingly referred to me as “mei guo guizi”. It was astonishing how she pulled up short and in all seriousness said, “Oh, you can’t say that.”

  9. @HongKonger: “It does not equate or is deemed as derogatory, unlike say, calling a Chinese a Chink in English-speaking countries.” I politely disagree. :) The word “Chink” came to be as many unemployed Americans at the time felt that Chinese men were taking away their jobs. The word “鬼佬 ” came to be as Hong Kong was invaded by the British. From a social psychological standpoint, locals in both situations felt that the other had wronged them, thus created a negative word in order to strengthen their stereotypes and feel better about their situation.

    Whether or not the speaker uses the word with malice isn’t really the issue. It’s the way it makes the targeted person feel. The reason the word “Chink” was condemned wasn’t because North-Americans realized that it was offensive, it was through the Chinese community who relayed the message to them.

    There’s a government slogan that I love, it’s 让我们一起构建和谐社会! and whenever I hear it, I feel that it’s going to make a difference and unite everyone together, regardless of their ethniicity.

  10. Zhou, I do agree with your comment. I don’t remember ever using the aforementioned terms on any of my friends precisely because I understand that the issue is, as you said, “It’s the way it makes the targeted person feel.” Therefore, it would be ingenuous of me to try to justify it. I was merely, as it were, reporting the phenomena discussed.

    I too like the slogan, 让我们一起构建和谐社会!It is a noble aim, a social ideal, a goal if you will. It has indeed made some differences in China, but still very far from the “promise land.”

    I love this Doaist observation: “Failing Tao, man resorts to virtue. Failing virtue, man resorts to humanity. Failing humanity, man resorts to morality. Failing morality, man resorts to ceremony. Now, ceremony is the merest husk of faith and loyalty; It is the beginning of all confusion and disorder.” Laozi (600BCE+/-)

  11. HongKonger, great Laozi quote. How different would the world be if Daoism had been spread all over. I particularly like the concept of 无为. Albeit hard to live by. :)

    I misunderstood your original post, I thought you had said that 鬼佬 wasn`t as derogatory as Chink. However, you clarified that it was not your opinion, rather a perception held by others.

  12. Thanks for your reply, Zhou. What you wrote all make good sense. Joel posted a couple of posts on Fool’s Mountain blog, have you read them?

    • How should foreigners feel about being called “鬼子,” “鬼佬,” “老外,” etc.?
    • Understanding popular Chinese notions about “racism” (help me out here!)

    What do you make of this? I saw on youtube that some Asian American/Canadian (mostly younger) girls have similar attitudes as this Shanghai girl. My sister only dated non-Chinese guys, but ended up marrying a Chinese by her own choice. Go figure.

    [I formatted the links. – Joel]

  13. Zhou,

    I have a genuine question: The chinese character : 鬼 Does it actually mean Devil? I’ve always thought the translation as “Foreign devil” is a bit off.

    The Devil is specifically 魔鬼(evil ghost or Satan)

    魔 means evil

    Are 鬼 always bad in Chinese thinking? 鬼 is not necessarily a demon either.

    When we Compliment (or joke , even flirt with) fellow Chinese or Cantonese – speakers, we use terms like

    Compliments: 精灵鬼马,你好鬼马,演艺 鬼才,鬼魅, 鬼咁有型, 鬼火咁 靓, 好鬼好吃, 鬼死咁正,

    Joke / Flirt: 死鬼, 冤鬼,我的老鬼 / 我只死老鬼 (husband),, 咸湿鬼,你只死坏鬼, 死咸湿鬼, 做鬼也风流,你是不是鬼遮眼 etc….

    I am sure there are more such phrases, any takers?

    Wukong Says:

    鬼点子: an devilishly clever idea.

    红小鬼:literally mean “little red devil”, here “devil” means the type of kids that are smart, naughty and always get into trouble, “red” here means “communist”. It’s a term almost exclusively reserved for those old revolutionaries who as young kids participated CCP’s Liberation War against then KMT regime (yay, I get to use “regime” ), it’s the ultimate badge of honor in ideologically charged era. For example, the disgraced former CCP Secretary General Hu Yaobang was referred to as “little red devil” 红小鬼 by his much older colleagues like Deng and Mao.

    红小鬼 seems to connote 机灵,活泼,大胆 –
    i.e. precociously(人小鬼大) Quick thinking, agile, and daring (courageous)

  14. HongKonger, good points! 鬼 is not always used in a negative context. As long as 鬼 is used by people belonging to the same “ingroup”, such as DengXiaoPing referring to his younger colleagues as 红小鬼, it is acceptable, as the meaning is not associated with any negative connotations.

    As for 鬼佬, it came to be when the British invaded Hong Kong, used it as a post to force opium upon all of China. The people of the region (to the exception of a few locals profiting from the opium trade), did not see the British as being part of their “ingroup”. Therefore, the term was not used in a non-friendly manner. (with good reason!)

    The word devil in English also shares the same expressions, some positive, some negative. For example, “He is the devil” or a husband saying to his wife, “how’s my little devil doing?” As will adults in the English and French languages call their children “little devils” in the same manner as the Chinese do. It’s all in the context.

    As for words being received differently depending on who says it, some of my Chinese-Canadians friends will refer to each other as “Chink”, when joking around. To them, this is acceptable, as they are part of the same ingroup and use it in a friendly context. I’ve asked them about it and they said that if they say it to each other, there’s no negative feelings, however if anyone non-Chinese were to use it, the would feel hurt. Weird, ain’t it?

    Similarly, there are many words that depending on contexts can be interpreted differently. For example, the word 贱 by itself isn’t always…umm….怎么说?haha。 Many young people will call each other 贱 and it’s done in a friendly way, however wouldn’t dare tell a stranger that he’s being 贱。 :)

  15. HongKonger,

    I had a look at the two links you suggested, the second had too many replies and not enough time to get through them.

    As for your 3rd link, in regards to the Shanghainese girl, the only thing I can comment about that is that 上海女人都很作。or more fitting, there’s a shanghainese 成语: 作天作地。 作 means that shanghainese girls are very demanding, with inflated expectations. Furthermore, Shanghai is quite the 钞票社会 which molded this new generation into thinking that way.

    I was shocked listening to my Hong Kong-Canadian friend’s sister and cousins at dinner a few years ago. One of the cousins was single and they were discussing her options. I jokingly said, “Andy Lau isn’t available?” and she laughed and said that there were no Chinese-Canadian guys that were of his caliber. I asked for clarification and all the girls laughed and said, “either they’re fat from eating mcdonalds, obsessive computer geeks, or have no personality as they’re studying to become a doctor.” She had dated non-Chinese guys for a while, but in the end, this cousin ended up finding herself an awesome Chinese boyfriend. (like your sister)

  16. Zhou & Hongkonger,

    Interesting stuff! Hope you don’t mind that I shared some of your comments on Fool’s Mountain. As you can see, you guys and Li Zijie (thanks to you, too!) helped stir up quite the discussion.

    I don’t recommend anyone actually try and read the 100+ comments in the racism thread; most of them are off topic and/or useless. Die-hards might want to skim it, as there are a few interesting and helpful perspectives shared. The Chinese labels for foreigners thread is a little more worthwhile, but I think it demonstrates how Chinese and “外国” Western cultures are all still struggling with how to think, talk, and deal with diversity.

    Funny story yesterday from an American friend in Tianjin:
    She was volunteering at a local hospital and was helping a mom with a young child. The child asked his mom, “Is she Chinese?” And the mom said, “No, where do you think she’s from?” The kid replied, “外国.” Reminded me of a joke from one of those Fool’s Mountain threads:

    a lot of people act as if there are only two countries in the world, the US and China.

    Well – we Chinese used to think there was only one – the Middle Kingdom. The fact that we think there are two now – U.S. and China – I think is a big enough improvement! :-D

    China isn’t the only country suffering from “Middle Kingdom syndrome”… though they are really good at it! ;)

  17. Joel, no problem sharing what we wrote. Once it’s written online, it belongs to all netizens. :)

    I checked out that post on Fool’s mountain, it’s weird as it says there are 40 comments on it, however I only see the first one.

    That’s too cute how that child said that your friend was from 外国. I wonder how many people think that 外国 is a country…per capita wise, probably as many people in Canada that think Asia is a country. :)

  18. I find the blunt use of 黑人 and 白人 to be the most jarring. I think in English we avoid describing people by their skin color at all costs (except maybe in police reports), whereas in Chinese it is said even if completely unnecessary to point out. Furthermore, the frank discussion of stereotypes of 黑人 and 白人 makes me uncomfortable as well. I don’t think my sensitivity to this is being overly p.c., there are very important reasons not to address, label, or categorize people in this way.

  19. “there are very important reasons not to address, label, or categorize people in this way.”

    Andrew, Speaking of labels, Name tags and titles. I’ve lived all my life in SE Asia. When I was younger I loved traveling. IN Europe, perhaps due to language barrier, I was immuned from racist comments. I don’t remember once talking about anything pertaining to racism with my European friends either.

    In North America, people seemed to be very careful around me. Or maybe I was so insensitive to racism that I didn’t feel it. (Later, I was taught to discern racist remarks often disguised in compliments and questions. It was then that I did some read up on the subject.)Then one fine sunny day, boom, it happened. I was in Sydney, Australia, and for the first time, I came face to face with a young man who just hated me. He kept challenging me to a fight. Later, I saw on a wall these words sprayed in black, “Go home Chinks,” in the neighborhood I was staying. That was when I realized why the guy didn’t like me.

    I will not here argue the color coding culture of societies. Chinese people seems to be proud to call ourselves the Yellow race. It has nothing to do with the shades of pigments of the skin of course, it’s in reference to the golden color of Royalty.

  20. Zhou,

    “She had dated non-Chinese guys for a while, but in the end, this cousin ended up finding herself an awesome Chinese boyfriend.”

    Maybe it is true when a girl says no, she means yes when it comes to admitting certain true feelings? That is why men find them impossible to understand – hence mysterious and intriguing.

  21. Joel,

    In Japan 外国人(Gaikokujin)is the political correct term used for foreigners while 外人(Gaijin)is the standard colloquialism used by the majority of the populace.

    It is interesting that the first label above was borrowed from China long ago not to refer to foreigners but to refer to anyone outside of one’s ‘han’ or social group.

    永住者, 黒人, 中国人、韓国人, 米国人and 白人 are also used, too.In Japan these terms are essentially neutral.(There are a lot more terms/labels but you get the idea)

    In Japan and maybe the rest of Asia I think that (内 Uchi)”the in group” and (外 soto)”the out group” concept is far more important that that of race, color, or ethnicity.

  22. I remember guys that worked with international students on U.S. campuses saying that the Japanese students often had the hardest time fitting in on account of their exceptionally strong in-group dynamics. I remember people used to joke (kindly) about the Japanese students at one school because they went everywhere in groups, and you could always hear them coming (especially the girls).

    People say the in-group out-group distinction is one of the most important concepts in the Chinese social world, but sometimes I wonder if Japan takes it even farther. Skip down to Section III of this post for a couple relevant quotes from some culture readings.

  23. I agree with you, Joel. I also noticed and experienced the same social phenomenon in school, too.

    I’ll take a look at your other post…

  24. Just read section III of your other post.
    The question you raise is very good one,
    I am afraid the answer is going to be complex it is really a case by case thing.

    A Japanese(in Japan) will go out his/her way to help a foreigner visitor because that type is a guest and the Japanese have a way(方/kata) for dealing with guest.

    Unless, a foreinger becomes a 永住者(Permanent resident) he/she will continued to be considered a guest and as someone short staying, not living in Japan.

    The Japanese have another way of dealing with foreigners with 永住権 (Permanent Residency). Of course there are some different benefits, but also a lot more social responsibility that comes with (PR). Actually, come to think about the Japanese have different institutionalized ways of dealing with almost everyone of any statues or position.

    Outside of Japan, however, Japanese will probably stay with classmates, tour group, and be less likely to intervene in someone elses problems.

    On a rush hour train in Tokyo/Oska it is possible for people to ignore any type of behavior. However, some trains have women only cars now and most trains have reserved seats for the expecting mothers, children, people with injuries, or other challenges. Normal trains are usually pretty safe because of the fear of society.

    I could go on and on, but this will do.

  25. Actually, some of the insensitivity in China is as you say very innocent. Most of it I would say. In fact, just talking with my mother sometimes…she’s highly educated, and very open-minded, but that kind of naivete can lead to very hilarious and embarrassing situations. Again, I refer to alllooksame.com for tangential philosophy. But there has also been, as evidenced by netizen discussions, a lot of rather ugly racism. Now my own naivete would like to believe that it’s a recent phenomenon, and…blame the west! But unfortunately, the more I learn about these things, the more I have to admit that it is more the uncovering of some traditional intolerance amongst certain Chinese communities.

  26. Before I moved to China with my Chinese boyfriend and we were living in the UK, we would go to a chinese buffet restaurant occasionally. Half of the restaurant was an all you can eat with anglicised chinese dishes and the other half was hot pot. The hot pot section was always filled with Chinese international students and chinese expats my boyfriend said to me”foreigners don’t eat here, you are the only foreigner eating hot pot”. I reminded him that I am not the foreigner in my home country. :)
    I hate how waiguoren is always translated to foreigner in English. “Foreign” means something that is in a place where it should not be, for example, foreign body. It is a word loaded with hatred. Overseas is the better translation. I am offended each time I arrive at Pudong airport and have to queue at the foreigners aisle. Anywhere else in the world it would be foreign/ overseas nationals.

  27. I had a buddy taking the train from Beijing to Russia to take the Trans-Siberian home to Europe. He was stuck in a soft sleeper with his buddy and a Chinese family. He speaks great Chinese and his buddy….none. The Chinese family was going on and on about “the foreigner does this and the foreigner does that” and they even dropped the “Yángguǐzi” (sorry, no Chinese input on this computer) bomb a couple of times. So, Cheap vodka got the better of my buddy and he just sat there waiting for the border. As soon as they crossed he jumped and addressed the family in Chinese for the first time by saying “Ha, We’re in Russia now! You guys are now foreign devils too!”. This then took a tonne of explaining but he said once the smoke cleared the Chinese family actually got a kick out of it and started referring to each other as “foreign devils”.

  28. Ha, I can totally see that happening, including the family getting a kick out of calling each other foreign devils.

    In two years in Tianjin I don’t think I ever overheard anyone using 洋鬼子, but my teachers said there are lots of terms for foreigners that Chinese people use among themselves but not with us – I forget which ones she told me about… 黄毛儿 may have been a local one, but I don’t remember. My Chinese boss in Vancouver used 洋人 with me.

  29. What is racism? I am still trying to formulate a definition. I think this could be part of the problem. Of course there are the extreme cases in which people get lynched and stuff like that. But don’t you think perhaps we are all prejudiced to some extent. I am trying hard to be objective.

    I mean I live in a country in Africa (not the country -Africa) in which I get segregated by different tribes for example. And sometimes I’ll ignore a remark about white people or Asians because I have come to feel that all people are to a degree prejudiced. There is the form of prejudice though that shows that the exhibitor lacks any kind of critical thinking tools.

    I have experienced prejudice in Europe, but it was quite different from the kind in Asia. Europeans will say something like “So, how long have you been a refugee here?” Funny stuff like that!(Funny because I probably made more money than them). And they would say it out of genuine concern for my financial status and whether I was getting enough to eat and such. Nice people really, just pre-judgmental.

    In my country people think most Chinese know Gong Fu. I might have been a victim to that kind of misconception too at some point to really ubsurd stuff like Chinese are canibals.

    Living in China I got a tremendous variety of receptions from different people. I one met the mayor of a certain town while I was teaching English, not that I am any good at the language. It was holiday season and most of the white people had gone on holiday (from the University).

    Some people would crowd around me and watch in amazment as I haggled for things in the market. They would want to touch my hair and see if they could wipe the dark colour off my skin.

    The problems would arise mostly when I would take walks with female Chinese. Usually they would insult the girl instead of me. Once I was walking hand in hand with two blond friends and they just could not believe it. Bikes would crash into them. It simply did not make sense to them that two blonds could be in the company of a 黑鬼(Black Devil). We literally causes a bicycle pile up!

    Then a company I worked with took me on a clearly planned visit to a brothel, had all the girls line up, and when I declined they were astonished, as though I was disproving some well know fact that black people never say know to sex, much less when its free and you can choose lol…

    Then there’s the Mao Tai ceremony in which you have to drink a tea cup of 60% or something jin (bai jiu) with every official. Thats crazy, and there’s no excuse that will suffice!

    I love China and cant wait to go back!

  30. About the “waiguoren” issue; it’s not a Middle Kingdom Syndrome. We tend to call anyone outside of China “waiguoren”, particularly if/especially when we don’t know their racial ethnicity. And “waiguoren” should be taken as meaning “people outside of the country(china)”. It’s a casual umbrella term that clearly describes those who are not(or do not look) chinese. It’s not an insulting term, either, unless one would prefer to be described by their race (as Americans and other countries favor). There’s no belief in owning the world involved, frankly.

    1. I’ve never heard of people thinking that “外国人” is an insulting term, though I have heard people being annoyed at the way it is shouted sometimes (although personally, think foreigners are sometimes too sensitive). I get mixed answers Chinese people about “老外”, however. As for the “owning the world” comment– that’s mostly a joke about China’s growing power as a nation and the idea that the Chinese civilization is the greatest ever and the natural central peak of the human development.

  31. I think the main thing to understand about Chinese and “racism” is the intent, or almost everything you need to understand about China is about “intent”. As you pointed out, Chinese interpretation of racism is that of the “Nazi” or extremist – because that’s what they know INSIDE China. If you ask Chinese expat what racism is (who has live oversea for extended period) they will have a different interpretation I guarantee. The fundamental thing here is Chinese judge things through people’s intention – is it malice? or is it innocent slip up? or is it genuine concern?

  32. I used to get called 鬼佬 all the time Shen Zhen… but there’s an interesting phenomenon that happens there. Most of the city speaks Mandarin because of the number of migrants from other parts of the country, but most people swear or speak colloquialisms in Cantonese. People who called me Guai Lo did so in Cantonese either in a friendly context (much like I assume teenage girls lovingly refers to their girlfriends as “ ”) or in a very rude context. Thus, the intent of the person was quite clear :)

    I still love Cantonese swearing, it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning.

  33. There are people who think that why they call asian people yellow is because of jaundice. French explorers of the Silk Road, spoke of “yellow people” at return to France. It is assumed that they encountered unusually many people with jaundice. Jaune means yellow in french. Source:http://www.zwangerennu.nl

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