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3.1 - Laowai Style

Given the contested nature of the term "Western" - and the fluid and ne-gotiated nature of identity more generally - local Chinese constructions of foreignness or of the Western Other, are certainly an important facet of ex-patriate Identity. Using examples drawn from Chinese online media, the news media and the literature, as well as from my own participant-obser-vation, this section examines these constructions in more detail,

The terms expatriate, laowai and foreigner were often used interchange-ably with Westerner by expatriates as markers of collective identity. In a column for the Shanghai-based New Zealand expatriate publication

Strewth, Dan Smith observes that in China "your foreign features bestow on you some magical abilities" (2012, p 2). He then goes on to identify the - alleged - inability of Chinese locals to differentiate between "the White man shuffle" and John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever as one of these "superhuman feats of Laowai-ness" (ibid). One regular contributor to theShanghaiExpat discussion forums posted a thread in the Dating and Relationship section, asking, "Based on my 1 [year] living experience in [Shanghai] as a white female, I'd say it's a tough place for Western girls to meet someone...Girls: what do you think?" (vol07 2009). In a blog post entitled "The Laowai Death Stare", another expatriate writes,

I’ve experienced it in remote corners of the country, where people seem to think they’re the first and only white person ever to visit China...I don’t understand why you’d be surprised and upset to see other foreigners in amongst the 80,000 or so people wandering round the Forbidden City.

(Steve 2011)

This link, between foreignness, whiteness and Westernness in the popular discourse of expatriates, is also present in the discourse of local Chinese regarding Westerners. In a popular posting on the Chinese discussion forum Tianya,29 one Chinese man writes,

In the West, young people start dating and losing their virginity at around 14 years old, but for many in China, it is 20 years old or even later, so first the starting point is already differ-ent. Laowai have 10 more years of experience on Chinese men.

(quoted by Rensi 2013)

Shanghai has significant Japanese and Korean communities, and a small, but growing population of expatriates from African nations. However, these groups are categorically separate from "white" Westerners in the local Chinese imagination. According to my partner Fei, the term laowai, which literally means "old outsider" was used by her local Chinese family

29. Translated from Chinese by Chinasmack, a website specialising in Chinese social media commentary

and friends to refer, almost exclusively to phenotypically "white"30 Western-ers. Sociologist James Farrer makes a similar point, in his ethnography of cross-cultural sex and sexuality in Shanghai, arguing that local Chinese rarely use the Chinese words for "white" or "Western" to describe foreign-ers. He implies that these terms are often redundant because the word laowai, or its more formal alternative waiguoren,31 already connote both

"whiteness" and Westernness for many local Chinese (2010b, p 79).

It seems likely that this link between whiteness and the West, or what some scholars call the "normativity of whiteness" (Aveling 2004; Haggis 2004), is able to persist as a facet of expatriate identity, because "white"

men remain the dominant image of Westernness within the world as a whole and within China in particular. Instead of the contextually unmarked term for foreigner -laowai - local Chinese commonly refer to anyone they consider "black" by the marked terms laohei - old black - or heiren - black person. While still marked as foreign, they are, unlike "white" expatriates, primarily identified by their phenotype, a marginal category within an already marginal group.

Just as whiteness is associated with the West and cosmopolitan values, for many local Chinese there remains a strong association between

"blackness", Africa, backwardness and danger. Indeed, for many "black"

expatriates, the experience of trying to convince local Chinese people that they were not, in fact, from Africa, was exasperatingly common. In their video "Being Black in China" the sketch comedy group Mamahuhu makes this point explicitly:

In China, white Americans have no boundaries when claiming their nationality. But black people are often thought to hail from Africa.

(Mamahuhu 2015)

On ShanghaiExpat, in a thread on "Being Black in China", Zak101 describes how students reacted to their first lesson with his newly-arrived

30. From this point "white" in scare quotes refers to phenotypically "white". Similarly

"black" in scare quotes refers to phenotypic blackness.

31. Person from a foreign country. Foreigner.

African-American colleague: "Of course, the kids were terrified when he walked into the room. [There were] screams of fear" (2009).

Fei related a similar conversation she had with some of her local Chinese students:

One of them asked me if there were black people in my hometown in America. When I said that, 'yes, sure there were,' she asked me if I was afraid to live there. Another time I asked my students whether they would ever date a black person. Most of them said they wouldn't, and when I asked them why they told me black people were all violent criminals.

Kevin, a "white" English Teacher from Australia, described attracting sim-ilar levels of unwanted attention while showing an Australian Aboriginal friend of his - who was in China as a tourist - around some parts of Shang-hai. "It was all a bit full on," he told me, during another friend's farewell celebration, "People started pointing and jostling us. I was embarrassed for them. I felt like I had to apologise on behalf of China or something."

Sinologist Barry Sautmann argues that the first-hand experience of local Chinese is unlikely to be a basis for their stereotypical views of "black"

people, with whom he alleges most local Chinese have little or no direct contact (1992, p 435). Contemporary first-hand accounts of what it is like to be "black" in China, certainly suggest that this is still the case in many parts of the country. In an auto-ethnography of her experiences as an African American tourist in China, Coleman writes about an experience she had in a market in Xian,

I ask our guide, Ting. She...opts to plead igno-rance, even as several dozen people begin to press in around us very clearly yelling some-thing, something that is not in my Chinese-English dictionary or part of my limited Man-darin vocabulary. A few dozen women walk behind me, and then reach around to my face to run their fingers quickly across my cheek or to give a quick pull of the tips of my long dred-loc’d [sic] hair. After this first, daring wave of curious women examine my Black body, more, and more, and more women rush up, reaching out in the hopes of doing the same—touching and pulling.

(2009, p 6)

The emergence of significant communities of African migrants in Guang-zhou (Porzuki 2012) and other Chinese cities has undoubtedly made

"blackness" more visible within those regions and throughout China as a whole. Far from eroding stereotypes of "blackness", the coverage of these communities in the Chinese news media tends to reinforce them. The African migrant community in Guangzhou, which Porzuki characterises as

"a thriving African neighbourhood" (2012), is referred to locally and in the Chinese media as Qiaokeli Cheng, or "Chocolate City" (Pan 2008). Many of its inhabitants are in China illegally, and this has led to sporadic clashes with police (Porzuki 2012). In 2010, a Nigerian man was the first foreigner to receive the death penalty for drug trafficking. During my stay in China, this community again received widespread attention when African migrants clashed with Guangzhou police over the death of another Nigerian man while in police custody (Beech 2012). The reaction to this later incident in Chinese social media was revealing. Commenting on an article entitled

"Foreign nationals assemble in Guangzhou following death of male for-eigner in police custody" a NetEase user from Shanghai commented, "So polite putting it as 'male foreigner.' Why not just be direct and say African black?" (quoted by Fauna 2012). Another NetEase user from Hebei suggested,

Quickly drive out these black devils from China, we don’t welcome black devils here!! Black devils are hidden dangers upon society, rape, robbery, smuggling, AIDS… What use is allow-ing these black devils to stay in China?

(quoted by Fauna 2012)

Guangdong's proximity to Hong Kong and Macau has long given it an association with smuggling and criminality in the Chinese cultural imagina-tion (cf. Ap 2011), and the presence of such a large populaimagina-tion of undocumented African migrants within the province may also reinforce Chinese stereotypes. Fei recounted a conversation with one Nigerian man, living in Shanghai, who told her that both expatriates and local Chinese often wrongly assumed he was a drug dealer, based solely on phenotype.

Interestingly I also occasionally encountered this view from expatriates.

On hearing that a friend of mine had met a "black" man at a Shanghai nightclub and gone home with him, only to end up being aggressively stalked by both him and the nightclub owner - who was also "black" - one

"white" expat smiled at me knowingly and said, "Were they Nigerians?"

When I went to Hong Kong to renew my visa, another "white" expatriate warned me to watch out for Nigerian men asking me "to carry a suitcase across the border for them."

Sautmann describes the stereotypical view of many Chinese towards

"black" people as related to the portrayal of African nations in Chinese news media as "destitute, ignorant and unstable" (1994, p 435). Addition-ally, he points to the exposure of local Chinese to depictions of "blackness"

in Western film and television as another contributing factor (p 435).

Whether accessed on the internet, via Chinese video sharing sites like Tudou, through the popular and broadly affordable market for pirated DVDs, or "legitimately" at the cinema, these depictions of "black bodies as dangerous bodies" (Gormley 2005, p 126) are much more accessible in today's China than they were in 1994 when Sautmann wrote his article.

Coleman also addressed this in her autoethnography,

RC: “Qin, we’ve got to know. Everywhere, we’ve been kinda the centre of attention.

People taking our pictures...We are kinda get-ting more attention than most foreigners. Is there an understanding of Black...?”

Qin [suddenly interrupting]: “Like Barbershop!“

RC: “What???”

Qin: “Black. Like Ice Cube. Like “Barbershop.”

[Plainly] Um hmm. But you were different with that man in the restaurant. He didn’t expect you to be like that.” Robin:”Wait! You mean to tell me that what he knows about Black folks is from movies like “Barbershop!?”

Qin: [Rather matter of fact] “It’s very popular here.”

(Coleman 2009, p 14)

Beyond these. more recent, influences, Sautmann argues that "blackness"

is historically linked, within Chinese culture, to rurality and the peasant class, whom many Chinese frame as "dark and backwards" (1994, p 435).

This is further complicated by what Chinese cultural critic Shu-mei Shih,

describes as the long association between slavery and "blackness" in the Han Chinese imaginary (2013, p 156). Even on the hottest summer day near my apartment in Shanghai, it is not unusual to see local Chinese women riding down Huashan Lu on their scooters, completely shrouded in a broad-brimmed hat, long pants and a long-sleeved jacket to protect themselves from the sun. Often even their faces are covered with a mask and sunglasses or a tinted visor. After returning from a holiday in the Phil-ippines, my partner Fei had several students comment on her tan. "You're so dark, you look like a farmer," they told her.

In contrast "whiteness" carries many positive connotations for local Chinese, and this has led to the commodification of "whiteness" by the Chinese advertising industry. Even as recently as five years ago, it was not unusual for Chinese advertising scouts to approach "white" expatriates in the street and ask them if they would consider being in a commercial.

My sister Carlee was asked to model while she was in Shanghai, and a number of postpats also testified to how common these encounters were when they first arrived (cf. dr3x320 2007). Several also told me that "that sort of thing doesn't happen as much now" - the population of professional

"white" Western models in Shanghai having grown to satisfy the demand.

Even during my first year in China, however, Twila, a TESOL teacher from the UK, was asked if she would model for a local Chinese co-worker, who had a side-business as an online clothing retailer.

I often heard recently arrived expatriates voice their surprise and occa-sional discomfort at the overwhelming presence of "white faces" in Chinese advertising. In one advertisement for Chaumet Jewellery, seen on the Shanghai metro, a "white" woman, smiling flirtatiously cradles her bare chest, her bed-hair pushed back off her face with a tiara (see Plate 1, p 67). There is an implied equivalence between the sexual availability of the model and the prestige associated with brand name jewellery in this image, and its suggestion, that the former can easily be exchanged for the later, is a clear example of what Johansson calls "the fetish of the Western woman in Chinese advertising"32(1999). According to him, through

advert-32. Johansson's phrasing here also highlights the unmarked nature of "whiteness"

isements like this, "the Western female body is made into a stereotype of strength, sexuality, and promiscuity that can be consumed and cannibal-ised without any fear of losing belief in the traditional virtues of Chinese women" (1999, p 382). Johansson's argument exposes an underlying ten-sion in Chinese depictions of "whiteness", the Chinese relationship to Westernness and to its own economic reform more generally. By its very nature, advertising is an aspirational medium, but when it is also used to promote the sexualised values of commodity fetishism - values which contrast sharply with the "traditional", "civilised" values of Chinese culture -disentangling desire from fear, or identity from difference, becomes increasingly complex.

Nor is it only "white" women who are used by Chinese advertisers to medi-ate this gap. In an advertisement for Chinese clothing label JuStyle, a group of "white" teenagers, sneer sullenly at the Camera, (Plate 2, p 67).

Their puffer jackets - a style that was very popular during the first winter I was in Shanghai, and which originates with US hip-hop culture - are open, exposing the bare chests of the men, and the shoulders and midriffs of the women. The men are posed in a way that would be called camp in the West, and the women offer their own - unnatural and stiff - versions of bad-girl sexuality. One of the men rests his head on the chest of an implicitly topless woman. The overall impression is of a poorly styled "white" pop group from the 1980s. It seems likely that the Chinese advertisers were trying to evoke exactly the same sanitised, "whitened" version of African-American, urban, hip-hop sexuality that "white" western boy-bands have historically also attempted with their styling. This appropriation of African American popular culture is certainly not new, or unique to the Chinese context (Verney 2003, p 59). What is noteworthy is the use of white models as an acceptable proxy for "blackness" or "rebelliousness" in a cul-ture which still expects rigid conformity from its youth and typically views

"black" foreigners with deep antipathy. Johansson argues that depictions

within Western Identity. He asks, "If Caucasian women in ads represent the West, the interesting question is not only what kind of `West’ they represent, but how they represent the West." (1999, p 378)

like these allow advertisers to engage with the changing nature of Chinese identity, without explicitly contradicting its established values. Because young "white" Westerners are already seen to "embody an animalistic sexuality - ruled by their passions and desires" (Johansson 1999, p 385), they are an acceptable expression of the conflicted aspirations of many Chinese towards the West, where using the image of a young Chinese person would not be.

"White" Westerners are also used in Chinese advertising to evoke suc-cess, wealth and prestige. In an advertisement for a luxury apartment development in Xuhui, a "white" woman is shown being offered coffee ser-vice by an elderly "white" man in the classic uniform of a butler (Plate 3, p 68). In English and Chinese, the caption of the advertisement reads "A Setting of Great Prestige." In an advertisement for another real estate development, this time in the neighbouring district of Jing'an, a "white"

Western businessman walks purposefully through the foreground of the picture, clutching a briefcase. In the middle ground, a group of "white"

men and women conclude a business deal with a phenotypically "east-Asian" man. "White" and phenotypically "east-"east-Asian" shoppers walk down a busy shopping street, past a cafe, prominently featured in the middle ground. As both of these billboards were located in neighbourhoods fre-quented by Westerners it might be argued that local Chinese were not the primary target of these advertisements. However, in their study of Chinese consumer readings of global and local advertising appeals, Zhou & Belk conclude that such Western "global" depictions do carry aspirational value for Chinese consumers by acting as surrogates for "status, cosmopolitan-ism, excitement, modernity, quality, technology, and beauty" (2004, p 71).

They represent what anthropologist Louise Schein has called an imagined cosmopolitanism, in which "desire...is in distinct ways about overcoming spatial constraint, about acquiring worldliness through engagement, in whatever form, with the world’s goods and lifestyles" (1999 p 360).

Johansson's positioning of "white" Westerners as mediators of this ima-gined cosmopolitanism parallels the scholarship of Chih-yu Shih, a China Studies scholar, who argues that Western notions of an Other - as distinct

from the self - contradict the Chinese epistemological concept of "all under heaven". According to him, "there is no such concept as ‘Other’ in this epi-stemology...‘The Chinese’ is no more than an epistemological frame that divides the world into the centre and the periphery" (2010, p 537).

Chinese perceptions of self depend on the rectification of the self toward this cultural centre, in his view, and not on a purely adversarial relationship with the Western Other. China's shifting relationship with modernity and with its cypher, the West, is, therefore, one in which "the West ceases to be the West. The West is either at the periphery with a potential to reach the centre, or at the centre waiting to be reduced to the periphery during times of corruption" (2010, p 538).

Outside of Shanghai, and in some of the city's outer suburbs, where few Westerners live or work, it is not unusual for "white" expatriates to be asked to pose for photographs by local Chinese. During a casual conver-sation over coffee, Agnes, a gallery manager from the UK, told me about an encounter one of her friends had with the seamier side of this practice,

She's this tall, stunning Russian girl, and one day a Chinese woman comes up to her at the train station and asks if she can take her pic-ture. Just a tourist she thinks, so she says okay. Thinks nothing more about it. Anyway, one day she's shopping on Taobao, browsing, and the next thing you know up pops her head, photoshopped onto some underwear model's's body.

Twila also routinely had the Chinese residents of her neighbourhood, which was at the end of Metro line 7, come up to her and ask her to pose for a photograph with them. "I'm just on my way to the Lawsons33 and up comes some woman with a camera," she told Sally, Melody and me over dinner. "'So beautiful' she tells me, and meanwhile here's me, in my flip-flops and track-pants. The last thing I want is to have my picture taken."

Another expatriate told me about a friend of his, whose large red beard attracted an exceptional amount of attention. On one holiday in the North

33. A Japanese owned convenience store chain.

of China, he got so sick of the locals asking for his photograph that he started asking for people to play him.

In the some of the more central and/or affluent districts of Shanghai where phenotypically "white" Westerners are not as unusual, this visibility auto-matically marks you as a target for beggars, con artists, pimps and street merchants of all persuasions. On one occasion I had a woman chase me across four lanes of traffic, shouting, "Hello" over and over again.

Hawkers could also be very aggressive, asking me, "You want bag?

Watch?" as I walked past. On my way back from Kiwi drinks, my first week in China, I had three men sidle up, one after the other, to offer me exactly the same pitch, "Hasheesh, marijuana," they told me, "Very, very good." A few weeks later a pimp on Nanjing Xi Lu offered me "lady mas-sage," minutes after watching me say goodbye to a female friend outside the metro station. On another occasion, while I was eating at a McDon-ald's near the train station, a beggar came up to my table and handed me a sign, "I am deaf and dumb," it read in clear handwritten English, "please give me money." Another man stopped me on the Jing'an pedestrian over-pass, and told me that he was a business executive from Beijing and that he needed money for a taxi because his briefcase had been stolen with everything he owned in it. When I told a postpat acquaintance about it later, he laughed and said, "They're always from Beijing."

Even in very gentrified, upper-middle-class suburbs, like the one lived in during my first year in China, "white" children are often seen as exotic. I was coming back from the metro station one day when I saw a "white"

Western woman pushing a stroller. Walking next to her was her daughter, blond haired, also "white", probably no more than four years old. A local Chinese woman, in late middle age, actually crossed the street to get a closer look. The little girl saw her coming and backed up against the wall of the compound she and her mother were walking past, looking trapped.

Her mother smiled uncomfortably, as, undeterred, the local Chinese woman pinched the girl's cheek and tried to talk to her in Chinese, before happily going on her way. In his interview, Ben discussed the effect this level of attention was having on the daughter of some friends of his,