Prepare to flinch. This ‘Rent-a-Foreigner’ 7-minute opinion-documentary from the New York Times may seem unbelievable, but as someone once said: April Fool’s Day is really hard in China because so much is so plausible. And I’m telling you as someone who’s lived in 2nd and 3rd-tier Chinese cities for six years: they aren’t making this stuff up.
Mainland Chinese have this incredible capacity, on occasion, to tell it straight, to just name a thing or situation for what it is:
The real value of a house or any product doesn’t really matter. As long as there is a good image, people will be willing to buy. For the time being, the image has become the reality.
It’s painful, but oddly refreshing — like picking off a big scab that you should have left alone when you were in elementary school.
I can’t embed the video so you’ll have to click here. My favourite bits are the dialogue with a potential client at 1:53:
“We have high-, middle- and low-grade ones. Now it is true that the price of white people is expensive, but it makes the place feel classier. If you truly can’t squeeze out the funds but still want to project an international atmosphere, I suggest using black people. They have a very open personality, yet are quite cheap.”
“Do you have any Indians?”
“We would need to look for them… we use them very rarely.”
“If we use them would they be cheaper?”
“About the same as blacks.”
And then the woman’s glance at 6:14 — I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
You might wonder: Who are these white boy expats doing these “jobs”? The expat scene is China is kind of… special, especially among the “English teacher” crowd. I’m not saying all English teachers are… a certain way… but I’ve certainly met a few who fit the stereotype.
And sometimes, the line between being an “English teacher” and being a “rent-a-foreigner” is very difficult to find.
VICE News has a similar report in the works: Rent a White Guy: Sneak Peek
Aside from English teaching and some random charity stuff, this is the closest I’ve come to renting out my white face in China:
- Scene clips & screen stills from â€œ1911â€³ (we were extras!)
- [Photo Gallery:] Filming Jackie Chanâ€™s Chinese propaganda movie â€œ1911â€
- We were extras in â€œ1911â€ â€” a big-budget Chinese propaganda Jackie Chan movie! (here are some photos)
For us these days, most of the overt racial attention we get revolves around our kids: