Foreigners not Welcome

It’s not just Beijing, either.

In the morning was talking with a friend in Shenzhen about the relay going through town and he expressed the desire that everyone just let China alone and give them a chance to have a nice day in the sun.  I didn’t agree, but thought about it for a while afterward and decided that my boys, 1/2 Chinese, should get to see things even if I don’t necessarily agree.

So yesterday afternoon I took my two boys, ages 1.5 and 3, to see the relay as it was passing just a few blocks from our home here.  We lined up along the main street along with everyone else. As it drew near I was very distinctly told (in Chinese): “Effing foreigner. Go home. This 0lympics is ours.”

I was shocked. I turned around to see who would say that. Behind me were a group of relatively well dressed office people, seemingly just out of the office for the festivities. I turned back and they said it again.

I’m surrounded by thousands of rabid, flag waiving patriots and I’m holding two babies, (both of whom are Chinese!!!)–what could I do? I just ignored them. But I’m posting this article I wrote last week and had previously decided not to post.

Attitude in China

I’m, once again stepping into uncharted waters and going to involve politics a bit more than usual. I find it odd that the political (theoretical, fluff, hot air) pieces I write attract more attention than the business pieces. I always thought that people voted and acted out of monetary motivations first and then emotional concerns second, at least in public. But since the political seem to draw so much more spit and vinegar I’m left to believe that either I’m so right about Chinese business that no one can argue or that I’m so wrong about Chinese and US politics that people can’t refrain from commenting. Both could be true, I suppose. A third options could be that my underlying assumptions that people are rational could be completely wrong too. In which case on-line retailers really need to rethink their positions—it’s all about emotion, guys.

Now, on with the show!

I can honestly say that I have rarely if ever been mistreated in China. I don’t count the arguments over quality or the multiple times I’ve been the target of random theft. I mean, I’ve hardly ever been treated badly by my Chinese hosts in terms of politeness and acceptance.

But that changed this last week. Three separate experiences have really damaged my opinion of the depth of Chinese hospitality. First is the excoriating, racist and downright scary language that is being thrown around in China right now towards foreigners in general and the US and France in particular. From actual riots to virtual (internet) lynchings, from racial comments vocalized without knowing I can speak Chinese to outright bullying and intimidation of foreigners shopping at Carefoure. China is moving farther from its goal of “one world” than it has in more than a couple of decades.

You may say I’m over reacting. You may point to the fact that there were riots against the Japanese two years ago and the physical destruction of the US embassy after the US bombed the Chinese embassy (by accident) in Yugoslavia—certainly those events were a bigger deal than now, right? But those two incidents were controlled burns. They were allowed specifically to help Chinese citizens with no other legal outlet for release blow off some steam. That’s how China works.

But today is different. I’ve been saying for almost 15 years that China has national-size insecurity complex. They’ve had it for at least 30 years (if not 100 years), but now you see it daily. They want to be welcomed onto the world stage as a player, but can’t handle the heat from the spotlight. They want the world to think that they have arrived, but expect a free pass for their xenophobic view of domestic and world history. They have the glass and metal buildings and freeways and factories, but except for cheap labor, what inside is really “Chinese?” As one client of mine, who recently came to China, asked: “What do the Chinese believe in other than money?” Well the superiority of (presently constituted) China and the Chinese race, for one.

China claims that it’s not their fault they have a bad attitude; that the world has hated and abused China for the last 100+ years and the world is now scared of the rise of China. I say bullshit to both. Sure China was colonized, what country other than England was not?! (I’ll grant the lingering dislike of the Japanese may be justified) Africa has a much worse history of colonialism and abuse by the West (and now by China) than does China, but the rampant racism and love-it-or-leave-it attitude doesn’t exist there. Similarly there is no hatred of Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand in the West—all Asian Tigers that swamped portions of the US and EU economies in the last 40 years. Sure there were fears of Japanese financial take over of New York in the 80’s. But even a nuclear-capable Japan is not seen as a “threat” simply because they are a financial power. You can’t blame western support of the T!betans on a fear of a financially powerful China. And how come the race card is played against China but none of these other states?

And to even say that its racist is simplistic, at best. If you want racism all you have to do is quote the Chinese President on T!bet—to paraphrase, he’s basically said that without the “parentage” and protection of the Chinese the other 55 minorities in China would be lost to feudalism. China will pull its minorities (dancing and singing) out of feudalism whether they want it or not! More? OK, ask any Chinese if they think that the US should have a black president. Or ask them if they would willingly do business with or even touch a black person. You learn a lot about China when you speak the language.

The famous quote by Liu (the Chinese gold medal hurdler) that he proved that “yellow” people can run just as fast as blacks and whites is a much more damning report on the Chinese mindset than it is on anyone from the West. Does anyone even care what “color” the various Olympians are for their country? Certainly the multi-racial West cares less than the monochromatic Chinese.

The arguments by Chinese to support their racism are not only conflicting but weak. They claim that Westerns don’t understand China, and at the same time claim that the West is trying to split China because we know that all Chinese dynasties split from within rather than fell from without (a very Chinese version of world history, considering the Mongols and Manchus were not “Chinese” until after hundreds of year of assimilation). They claim that the West doesn’t want a powerful China, yet the financial grow (FDI) has, up until the last few years ALL come from either the west or other Asian Democracies. You don’t invest in your “enemies.” What most Chinese aren’t willing to believe is that most foreigners also believe that a rich and powerful and responsible China is in the world’s best interest—but take out “responsible” and you have the US invading Iraq—and nobody, including China, wants that.

China and many of it’s overseas supporters cry foul when anyone says that the Chinese government is this “monolithic” united force. Yet China’s view of a hegemonic western power (the EU and US?) or (even more laughable, a monolithic government controlled media) fighting with both propaganda and military strength is equally absurd to any one that has been educated anywhere outside of China. The Chinese government can and does control a country (and press core) larger than that of the entire EU or US. Yes there are ebbs and flows in the ability to control various parts of the country, but to claim that because the government arm doesn’t always reach as far as Beijing wants shows that China is more egalitarian than monolithic is not just ignorant, it’s completely stupid. A weak dissemination of power does not make China more democratic—it just makes it more volatile.

By contrast, the US can’t even keep two candidates within the same political parties inline let alone agree to a plot for world domination with the EU. As recently as two years ago polls showed that the US disliked the French more than Iran (or China). And does anyone outside of the British government even like the US anymore? How is that a hegemonic plot to suppress the rise of China?! It’s not. No matter how much US citizens act like we are the rulers of the planet or the Chinese blame us for being such, neither the hegemony of the US nor the egalitarianism of China are realities.

Just so we’re all on the same economic page: China’s rise is in the world’s best interest—as a market, as a stable power, as a mature State and any one that thinks otherwise is ignorant, issues of resource scarcity notwithstanding. Grow China grow! Anyone that says otherwise is either a global warming wacko (i.e. falsified green statistics are more important than human lives as the current bio-fuels instigated world food shortages proves) or has their head in the protectionist sands of the past.


Now back down to a personal and business level.

First, I am acutely aware that I am a minority in China. Most of the time this is either no big deal or a bit of a help. Maybe I stand out as a target, but I also get some special treatment because of my different looks (and presumed higher economic status). This means that most Chinese are fantastic hosts and overly polite. It also means that my prices are higher than local would be charged for almost everything in China that is not scanned at a register—and yes, I was here when they still had official “foreign” pricing so I know its relatively better but the attitude is still pervasive. My family (Chinese in-laws) joke all the time that they should never send me to buy anything in China as it will cost more.

Secondly, recently, being a foreigner has been, to be honest, at bit scary. Crime against foreigners is high. Anti foreign sentiment is rising fast. Now in China I’m not even a “normal” person (of course not special), now I’m “bad” and I’m “them” and sometimes I even get called “French.” Yuck. Why is this scary? The crime isn’t much worse than a year ago. The race riots are, unfortunately, now becoming almost annual. So why scary now? Because the government may not be able to or willing to control it as the hype for the 0lympics draws near—how do you shut down nationalism in the next 100 days as the 8 year hype of the 0lympics finally crescendos? And instead of shutting it down (and some chats are closed, I realize) they are instead telling Chinese to just not talk with or share “sensitive” information with foreigners—yes, the new official line is to “exclude” anyone that is not Chinese from conversations about real issues. Or just don’t giv them visa’s any more. Welcome (some of you) to China, please shut up, spend your money and then go home as quickly as possible. Nice.

Drawing a line in the sand and saying that “all foreigners are untrustworthy” is a scary position for a government to take—especially when that government has for 50 years also promoted the idea of Chinese racial/national superiority. (At least the US government abuses everyone, citizens and non, equally in our post 9/11 fear of foreigners.) If you don’t think that this is a big deal, look at the crowds supporting the torch relay in Australia, New Zealand or South Korea—do you see anyone supporting the torch that is not Chinese? NONE. And, despite the fact that “all Chinese and right thinking people around the world” condemn the violent nature of some of the protest in England, France and the US what are the Chinese supporters doing in New Zealand and South Korea? Violently pushing out opposition. Yup, China, you’ve arrived. Glad to see you meeting the Lowest Common Denominator for world “communication” standards.

The 0lympics might turn out to be One world, One race if things keep up. What happens when China loses to the US in basketball in round one? Or when they lose to the French in Cycling? Or to the Koreans in football? What happens if a Chinese athlete of T!ibetian decent wins a medal for China—can they cheer for him/her? How about when the Hong Kong team wins medals? How do they support that?

Third, this week I was thrust into the reality of the Chinese State’s “real” attitude toward individuals. As I’ve mentioned before, our apartment complex is trying to fight the building of an exhaust fan for a new subway line in the middle of our garden. The government and subway company are totally unwilling to even talk. Yesterday the subway company, in a meeting with some landlords in the Shenzhen city government offices said to us: “We don’t care if you all die from the pollutions (exhaust). We have to build the fan. You can protest if you want but if you do we’ll put you in jail just like we did to the other protesters last year.” They are telling this to foreign landlords! I’m not making this up—how does this equate with China being a responsible world power?! It doesn’t it. The news is all just so much garbage until it hits you personally in the face. I consider myself slapped.

I shared with is a long-time China hand and lawyer friend of mine here in China and he said: “as I tell people who only see the soft side of China, do not be fooled. This is an authoritarian state. It will get less authoritarian only when the citizens insist on something different. It has nothing to do with being a world power and it has nothing to do with us foreign guests.”

Yup. That’s scary stuff.

Finally, last I was working with a factory in Xiamen. Great facility, great equipment lousy service. They are busy, they are profitable, they don’t need new clients. They told me straight out, over lunch, they don’t want me to come do QC. They are professional and export to the US and if their own internal QC isn’t good enough for me then they don’t need my business. I told them that if their product was a good as their talk we wouldn’t have any problems. Of course, it wasn’t. They repeatedly said to me, when I brought up actually quality issues, things like “this is good enough for our other US clients,” and “this is so small, your client will never see it.” They couldn’t get the registration right on the printing and they were both frustrated and embarrassed that I called them on it.

I have to say that this was, by far the worst treatment that I have ever had by a factory. I’ve never been talked to like this before. Had we not already signed a contract and paid the deposit for this order I would have walked out and flown home.

The reality is two fold, the factory is so busy and foreign client standards are so low (really, no one is rejecting this stuff, so it’s acceptable) that suppliers don’t have to provide any quality service or even quality product. They are so busy that “cha bu duo” (good enough) is good enough and since it’s at a reasonable price and on time, clients are fine with that. Conversely without any check on quality the reputation of both the factory and my company that uses them will eventually suffer. Call is quality fade, call it arrogance, call it ignorance of standards. It’s cooperation with Chinese characteristics—you pay full price and don’t complain and we’ll do a so-so job and claim “difficulties” because we’re a developing country or that your standards are just too high.

Whatever you call it, it’s tough to get quality when you are in an environment where you are both socially a pariah and professionally unwanted. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m here in China because there are opportunities and for the most part, it’s been a very good place to be for the last decade. Further, I don’t agree with violent protests against China but I do not agree with violent suppression of contradictory opinions either.

But I still believe, as I’ve said before, if you don’t think that events unfolding now will affect your business in China, then you are not fully aware of who you’re working with in China.

15 Responses to “Foreigners not Welcome”

  1. […] I happened to see this entry from Silk Road International Blog. I thought I would write something about it – not for my own purpose, but for many foreign people […]

  2. […] customers to please keep in mind that China still is a communist country and the games are about Chinese National Pride and the “coming out” of the communist party. Business interested do not factor into the […]

  3. […] is an interesting post on the silk road international blog entitled, Foreigners not Welcome and I find this post echos much of what I see on the ground as well. Which is that I have noticed a […]

  4. “What country other than England hasn’t”

    England has been colonised at least four times, once by the Romans, once by the Saxons, once by the Vikings, and once by the Norman French – and the only beef which we still keep alive is the one against the French, but that’s more to do with them being our neighbours than anything else.

    “But today is different.”

    Actually, I think it’s just that people are just less willing to keep their opinions to themselves. Don’t fool yourself, a lot of Chinese people hate foreigners – not the majority, but a significant minority.

    “And does anyone outside of the British government even like the US anymore?”

    Or even in the British government? I have to say, a lot of people in the US seem not to understand that the Labour party is (with the exception of the Scots Nationalists) the most anti-American party in British politics. Blair may have been pretty tight with Bush (although many would say that this was a vain attempt at trying to influence decision making) but back in the 80’s he ran on a manifesto seeking a full withdrawl from NATO and expulsion of US forces from the UK.

    “as I tell people who only see the soft side of China, do not be fooled. This is an authoritarian state. It will get less authoritarian only when the citizens insist on something different. It has nothing to do with being a world power and it has nothing to do with us foreign guests.”

    Your friend is 100% correct, the problem is how to continue living in China after you realise this. I found simply maintaining the same open and friendly attitude as before the best way, simply ignoring problems will not make them go away, and avoiding contact with others is hardly the way ahead. Best to meet it head on.

    Of course, things would become radically different if the government started to give even tacit support to this kind of sentiment. The result would almost certainly be blood in the streets.

  5. Pretty interesting blog and a provocative piece… A few comments:

    * Only if care to find out the truths in the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. Wiki is a good start. The only CIA ops in the whole campaign ended up being 300 m from its supposed target on a faulty map, where once was an empty lot? There had been like at least 3 official explanations offered, and the last one was the only one logically feasible but so twisted that I would buy OJ being innocent before it.

    * What is so particularly wrong with Liu’s comments, other than he should’ve noticed some of the fastest non-black sprinters (sans hurdlers) are nowadays Japanese? Liu is also admired in Korea and Japan, for the same obvious reason — and hopefully inspires a whole new generation of athletes in East Asia. For what’s worth, other than Liu, Jeremy Wariner was my other favorite track star in 2006. Liu and Wariner were both underdogs in their respective lives, and yet they managed to excel.

    * You probably have not had much exposures to people from places such Latin America, Middle East, Africa, or Southeast Asia judged by that in your piece, the West and the World are seemingly interchangeable. BTW, it’s only in the West that a large portion of the people believe Africa is being abused by China — not in Africa itself.

  6. OK, Jxie, a couple of quick points. Let me guess, you’re a Chinese foreign exchange student?

    First, the US was wrong to bomb the embassy. But I don’t have a clue if it was a conspiracy or not. The point here was the REACTION.

    Second, NOTHING is wrong with Liu’s comments or his success! I’m only interested in what it says about people’s mindset. I’m thrilled by his success and the “next generation” of athletes. Again, the point was the reaction, not him.

    Third, for a Chinese to comment on someone else’s lack of multicultural exposure is truly rich. I guess you missed the fact that I have an MA in Southeast Asian Cultural Anthropology, lived in Thailand for 4 years and work in multiple SEA countries.

    Finally, only Chinese believe that they are actually doing good in Africa–do a little more reading outside of Xinhua. Africans kidnaping Chinese engineers? Boats being refused port? New legislation to limit foreign investment in certain industries? None of the news about Africa having issues with the Chinese is coming from the West.

  7. @David – “for a Chinese to comment on someone else’s lack of multicultural exposure is truly rich”

    I think you could have phrased that better, Chinese people on average have little opportunity to study and live in country in which the main function of the media seemd to be telling people that they are Chinese and what that means. However, I’m sure you have met Chinese people who are widely travelled and experienced also, I know I have.

    “I don’t have a clue if it was a conspiracy or not. The point here was the REACTION”

    I have to disagree here, if there had been solid proof that there had been a conspiracy then that might have justified the level of anger that Chinese people felt. The ‘reaction’ only becomes objectionable when you take into account the fact that no real evidence has ever been shown that the bombing was anything but an accident. However, even if everyone had been convinced that it had been a total accident then some level of anger might still have been justified. I suppose it is worth mentioning here that NATO actually managed to drop bombs in neighbouring countries by accident – 300 meters is neither here nor there.

    “only Chinese believe that they are actually doing good in Africa”

    The main theme here seems to be that it is impossible to invest in poor and undemocratic countries without doing evil. You must then ask if the west is doing good in China – consider that western companies do contribute to Chinese polution, that we have sold them weapons and are still selling them technology that may have police/military application.

    @Jxie – “What is so particularly wrong with Liu’s comments?”

    I too felt uncomfortable with it. Firstly, it reflected a mentality of inferiority – nobody had been saying that people of Asian extraction could not compete in such a race. Secondly, it showed an un-sportsman-like attitude. When a win is a victory for people of yellow skin everywhere, you have to ask: would a loss have been a defeat?

    “not in Africa itself.”

    Africans are fairly negative about all foreign involvement in their countries, let’s leave it at that.

  8. Yes, I have met a few (very) well educated Chinese who are well travelled and very thoughtful. But I’m not sure that that is a balanced assessment of the majority of mainland Chinese–which is whom we are talking about. Agreed, I could have said it better, but the fact that there is little to no cultural diversity or taught appreciate of anything foreign (except for FDI and Tech transfer) still makes this, I think a valid opinion.

    I have lived through multiple politically controlled “burns” here in China and, again, justified or not, right or wrong, is not the question for any of them. The reality is that nationalism is used as a tool and few people (Americans included) realize how often they are being played, I think.

    I really have to say I disagree here with your investment comparison. To compare private/corporate investment dollars from the West into China to Sinopec or other Chinse government controlled/owned investments in Africa is at best not at all accurate and worst deliberately misleading.

  9. @David – Whilst I’m perhaps more inclined in many to see evil intent in Chinese investment in Africa, apart from the recent incident of arms sales to Zimbabwe and the Sudan, I have seen no real evidence of them doing anything other than what has been done by other countries.

    As for the involvement of foreign companies in China, I personally believe them to be subject to a tighter set of checks and balances than local companies due to having less influence over the local government and being, on average, larger scale operations. This does not mean that things which are quite wrong are not being done by foreign companies in China. I will always remember the words of a man I knew who had worked as a contractor for BASF in Nanjing and had spoken of them flushing whole vats full of poisonous material into the Yangzi river when it was discovered that they had mixed wrong. Sure, this is only one incident, but from what I am told it is demonstrative of wider practices among many companies operating in China.

  10. OK, last comment here. 1. No one is claiming Evil Intent on the part of the Chinese. I am implying though, that with investment comes responsibility and prior to international pressure, there was little or none. 2. Your example of Chinese employees flushing toxins down their own rivers as employees of an MNC is interesting but hardly makes a point. No one, least of all me, is claiming that MNC’s or private firms are innocent in China–but again, that’s not the point.

    By the way, the argument “yea, well you did it first” is really just as ineffective for adults to use as it is for children.

  11. […] that implies that their presence is not really that welcome at the rally torch run. For example, here (also a very good article about issues of nationalism in China). The motto for this olympics– […]

  12. […] picked up by the China Law blog and was separately discussed by other foreigners as well on their own blogs as this is no an isolated […]

  13. […] picked up by the China Law blog and was separately discussed by other foreigners as well on their own blogs as this is no an isolated […]

  14. David,

    I know this post was written way longgg ago, but felt compelled to respond (thought I’m thinking my comments will just drop soundlessly into the abyss).

    I’m a bicultural, bilingual Chinese Canadian who’s grown up in Canada since the age of 4 and has been living in China since 2004,

    I think our frustrations with China occur, because we judge China based on the set of rules and ethics we learned in the countries where we grew up.

    Perhaps we were fortunate enough to grow up in a free and democratic country, which didn’t have a centralized government breathing down our backs, telling us where to live, what to do for a living and how high to jump.

    Perhaps we grew up in a multicultural neighborhood or went to school with children of different cultures.

    And maybe our families were even well-off enough that we didn’t have to quit school in junior high, so that we could find a job to support our parents.

    It’s also a fact that China’s economic development is far outpacing its social and spiritual growth – something which is going to come back and haunt China in future generations. And the income disparity between classes has gone from a gap to an irreparable chasm.

    It’s also amazing that China has literally dragged itself off the ground from the devastation left by Mao, less than a century ago, and has become the powerhouse it is today.

    So, when you look at the schizophrenic chain of events that China’s gone through to get to where it is today, I think you’re going to find some pretty insecure/overly nationalist Chinese citizens and a government that is still intent on wielding authoritarian power, but also realizes the huge role that foreign investment has in China to make it what it is today.

    I’m not making any excuses for what you, or other foreigners in China are experiencing – I sometimes get discriminated against and ripped off too – but I think all of us living and working in China for whatever reason has to realize that we are in a foreign country that is not our own, and we cannot expect it to be our own.

    And we cannot expect China to make the Great Leap Forward to a mindset that is on par with the “West” right now, today, because China is a communist country, closed off to the rest of the world till only recently and still in a very restricted way.

    I think a lot of foreigners come to China and see all the infrastructure and glitz and get lulled into thinking it’s all hunky dory and just like “back home”.

    Well, it’s not. And it’s not going to change any time soon. So, all that can be changed is our own mindset and the way we perceive China.

  15. Susan, Your thoughts are not lost in the abyss. Quite the contrary, I appreciate them and couldn’t agree more. China is amazing, different, difficult, out-of-date and modern all at the same time. Thanks for sharing your perspective! DD