Expat Racism Towards Chinese

Expat Racism Towards Chinese
Jun 28, 2010 By Mark Turner , eChinacities.com

Racism in China is a much discussed subject amongst expats. Commonly the discussion is rather one-sided – focused on the prejudice and racism directed at foreigners by Chinese. For many this is part of the venting that comes after a Bad China Day – or a succession of them – and is mostly a bit of lighthearted banter for letting off steam, as opposed to a genuine dislike of China and Chinese people. It cannot be denied that there is racism towards foreigners in China – racism towards foreigners exists in any other country. The subject left untouched by many foreigners is that of the racism of foreigners in China towards their hosts. Seeing as most foreigners here are guests out of their own choice, these anti-Chinese sentiments amongst foreigners make little sense. Few people are likely to move to a land of people that they in fact hate. Still, many expat complaints about Chinese verge on racism. Next time you’re listening to expats talk about Chinese people, replace “Chinese” with “blacks” or “women” and see how it sounds to you.

Photo: dmax3270

Some might argue that as human beings we are, to some degree, inherently racist, as antinomy for our own kind, along with other factors such as geographical location, are what in fact bring about the social construct and biological phenomenon that we label as “race” in the first place. While the racism perpetrated by expats in China may be less clear cut than the bold rhetoric of nationalist organizations, and the sneering racial slurs handed out by the less “enlightened” in our own countries, it’s relative subtlety does not justify it.

What constitutes racism, beyond violent race hate attacks and racially motivated discrimination at the work place or social institutions – neither of which are all that common, thankfully, anywhere in China – is often very difficult to pin down. Racism is both a confounding subject and a far reaching one. Coupled with social issues in China and you have a slippery subject. Let’s clear it up a bit by first identifying some instances of racism by foreigners in China towards Chinese people.

The most common form of racism in China expressed by foreigners is that of superiority complexes manifested through frequent voicing of disdain for Chinese people. These expats consider many Chinese people uncouth or uncultured, ignorant and uneducated, and somehow overlook the great qualities that are possessed a by a multitude of Chinese people from all walks of life. This disdain is expressed through frequent complaints about, or mockery of, Chinese people’s public behaviour including, spitting, pushing in line, table manners and speaking too loudly. Individual incidents are often parlayed into sweeping generalizations that accompany all Chinese people. Generalizations which are often voiced in the presence of the offending individuals, with the speaker assuming that no one else around them will understand.


What people fail to understand – or choose to ignore – is the fact that etiquette and social conduct are judged by different criteria in different countries’ cultures. The fact is China is a developing country. Many people do not have the time, economic wherewithal and social upbringing to have the refined bearing of a well off, educated, European, or American urbanite. Still, foreigners in China all too often extend these generalizations to all Chinese people, accentuating perceived shortcomings and choosing to ignore what makes them valuable and colourful fibers in the tapestry of their lives.

The bottom line is that when people find behaviour disagreeable they have a number of options. The first is to remove themselves from the situation by moving in circles with Chinese people that meet their expectations more closely. The more drastic solution is to find a different home completely. It seems that often, the most vehemently critical and hateful people are those that are unable to change their circumstances in order to implement these changes. This is perhaps quite telling.

Much of the most coarse, merciless and thoughtless criticism, or discrimination is instigated by either foreigners or Chinese elite, and fails to focus on personal shortcomings, rather than the surroundings that may inspire them. As expressed best by existential philosopher Sartre, hatred is a scar on one’s own psyche. To put it simply, hatred never benefited anybody, least of all the person doing the hating.

Another cause for the ire and, in the worst circumstances, racist and blind hate from foreigners in China, is the concepts of “word” and “face”; namely, a dominance of a face-valuing societal system and the lack of respect for a man or woman’s word. Anybody that has been in China for an extended period of time knows that Chinese people commonly, for either the purposes of gaining advantage of the person they are talking to, or for genuinely saving their feelings, or not upsetting them, can be very indirect, to the point of being downright evasive in communication. This saving of face is something that brings the disdain of certain foreigners.

It is ironic that the righteous causes which people from everywhere around the world champion tend to be very myopic. What is the value of pointing out hypocrisy or duplicity in a Chinese person’s speech, or indeed, pointing out the perceived wrong doings of an entire nation; when all of the luxuries and comforts in the lives of the people in your home country – imported food, gadgets, computers, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, the list goes on – are produced by means which are often in some way, shape or form to the detriment of the lives of people in other countries, China included?

It is easy to point out small incidences of hypocrisy on a day to day basis. It is more difficult, if not nigh on impossible, to recognize hypocrisy and the injustice that is the bedrock of our lives, and then attempt to do something effective in redressing the balance. The only way to play a small part in the cause is by being kind and not judging those around us. The playwright William Saroyan summed it up best:

“Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Be the inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man's guilt is yours, nor is any man's innocence a thing apart.”


Related Links

Is There Really No Racism in China?
Workplace Face Off: Chinese vs. Foreign Employees
Mashang and Mei Banfa: The Words Foreigners Hate to Hear

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on eChinacities.com without written permission from eChinacities.com constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.

Keywords: racism among foreigners china foreigners racist china expat racism china racism china Foreign chinese racism


All comments are subject to moderation by eChinacities.com staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.


I know a bunch of people who dislike Americans. Yet America has multiple racial and ethnic groups. So, is this racism? According to the author's logic, yes. I fundamentally disagree. If the author said "ethnocentric," then I would agree. In my opinion, racism is more of an opinion without justification. Racism is more like an irrational, unsupported opinion about a race and the attributes that fundamentally cannot be changed. Such as skin color. A person can feel disgusted by disgusting behaviors such as, "spitting, pushing in line, table manners and speaking too loudly" (author's words), and still not be racist. If I think letting your child take a sh*t on the streets is uncivilized, or eating a woman's placenta for nutritional value is bordering on cannibalism, it doesn't make me racist. It makes me reasonable. It's perfectly reasonable to be disgusted by disgusting behavior. Racism is more or less unreasonable. Here's a thought experiment to expose the author's flawed point-of-view, ready? What if we replaced the street sh*tting with something a little more obviously wrong, like, child molesting or wife beheading. If you are disgusted by child molesters, does that make you racist against that specific counter-culture? This author definitely won't be publishing any scholarly journals on morality any time soon. Oops! Does that make me racist against the author?

Jul 31, 2012 07:29 Report Abuse