Close

Being a 'non-white in Asia'

I'm heading to Beijing soon and I've heard and read some unsettling stories about black people's experiences in China. I'm curious about how people have dealt with the challenges of racism  (or racist tendencies) while there.

One of the things that I really like about China is how NOT politically correct it is. So people who are used to living in a PC environment will find it shocking.  Indeed, Chinese practice Christmas, and say "Merry Christmas". They also will tell you what they think.  If you have nice legs they will say that you have nice legs.  If you are fat, they will ask you why you are so fat.

To understand China you need to understand that the United states has a handful of minorities.  These are negro, American Indian, and Eskimo. Three.  Anything else goes into "other".  China has 86.  All are different colors, sizes, and languages.  Yes!  Languages also.  All of which are promoted and appreciated by others not of that race, not to mention the government.

So, if a Chinese sees someone of a different race, that are short (for example), they would smile an say to their face "you sure are very short".  They mean nothing bad about it.  They speak it as a fact.  They use it to communicate and talk.

Not so in the United States. If you want to bad-mouth some Caucasians you call them "crackers" (if you live in the USA).  Though, here in China, it's a type a food, and not an insult. (LOL)  There are NO racial slurs in China.

So when a Chinese says something about your skin color it is NOT an insult.

So that is the good news.  No one is going to go up to you and say "you sure are black" to your face as an insult. They will say it.  However, it won't be an insult.  It will be a fact.  So if you are too PC to accept what others say and think, then you will have a very hard time in China.  They say it like it is.  (Now, the concept of "face" is a related issue, but it is associated with wealth and power, and not appearance.  So don't get the two confused.)

Most Asian nations, notably China, Japan and Korea associate skin color with ability, means and wealth. You ether are rich and successful and stay inside all day (out of the sun), or you are a poor laborer.  They stay outside in the hot sun.  So the lighter and paler your skin is, the "better" you are.

Oh, of course, in this modern day and age, the Chinese know that skin color has no bearing on ability.  However, that does not change the socialistic culture. If you have dark skin you are associated with the agrarian South. You will be considered a bit uncouth, dirty, or poor; prone to bad habits and lacking in manners.

That is just the way it is.

If I go to England, I will eat fish and chips and eat it inside day old newspapers (yuck!).  You live life where you are physically present. You live and adapt. This is most especially true in China.  I have many friends that are of dark skin from the USA (a number of exceptional ones from NY city) living in Shenzhen that are just thriving.  (I do mean thriving!  I love James and his long dreadlocks and big grin and super smile.  He is one of the most popular teachers in his school.  God bless him!)

Their secret is they accept, adapt and are happy regardless.

On the other hand,  have met some (from the States) who have had a difficult time in China.  They came with a "chip on their shoulder"  and expect life to be far and even to get special "credit" for their skin color. (You are not going to win any "points" by scowling and demanding special privilege.  The Chinese won't have any of that.)  NOT GONNA HAPPEN.  If you want to make it in china you will need a good attitude, ability, and a very high EQ.  (Emotional quotient) Otherwise, you will be what everything thinks you are...

Never let anyone else tell you how to live your life. Not your friends.  Not your family.  Not your government.  Not your priest (or Rabbi, or spiritual leader).

Only you can control your happiness.  Part of that is decided by whom you share your life with, and where you live.  So look long and hard about what is important to you. If you want to move to a place where they will consider you special because you have dark skin, China is NOT the place.  I would suggest, the USA, UK, Uganda, Namibia, Zambia, or the Philippines instead.

Finally, never base your decisions upon fear.  Fear is a big lie and never...NEVER accurate.

I wish you the best with great sincerity.  I hope this helps you out.

Hi,
the people who are more self-discipline and abide by local rules and laws are welcome at anywhere.
All the best

Thanks for your positive response. I understand the principle of adapting to a different society, but the truth is that prejudice means some need to grin and bear it more than others. I also understand there have been instances of unequal pay along racial lines, which some have claimed is common practice. Daily experiences of people drawing undesirable attention just going about their day and things like that have not been portrayed as a common experience for all foreigners. The truth of the matter is that underatanding the historical context doesn't change thr fact that lived experiences will differ because of race.

This isn't about othering the Chinese or perceiving them as an anomaly. Nor is it about wanting my blackness to offer me special opportunities. I hear many white foreigners have had to deal with certain types of preconceptions as well and I understand that has a historical context as well. But I am not in their position and mentally preparing myself, using tips that have worked for people who have been in a similar position would help me adapt faster.

Summary

Hon, If I were to give you one set of advice, it would be this;

Throw away all your notions about what is right, just, or proper.  You will be going to a different society where you will ALWAYS be an outsider. There is no right or wrong.  There is only "what is".

Why talk about race and bring it up?

Personally, I just don't get all this "race" stuff.

I had a Zambian girlfriend for almost a decade.  She refused to call herself an "African-American".  She insisted that she be called either an "American" or an "African-African". In fact, her opinions of African-Americans was really low, and is still is.  I guess that Zambia is a far more conservative society than that in America. By the way, I did pay a bridal price for us to get married, and we almost did.  However some pesky immigration details interfered in our marriage.  Never the less, I always have the fondest memories of my times in Africa.

The need for excuses.

All of us use "crutches".  They serve as excuses and justifications to help us accept our situation.  For instance, I was laid off because the company was gong though a reorganization, not because I wasn't kissing up to the boss hard enough.  She left me because she found someone better, not because I had bad habits and was a loser.  We all use crutches.

The crutches that one uses in America will be absolutely inadequate and useless in China.

My sad story of woe

I myself am actually a mutt; Polish & Blackfoot Indian.  So when I grew up I was the brunt of all kinds of "Pollak" jokes. You will NEVER see me mentioning that to my friends in China.  Not only won't they NOT understand, but they won't care.  Crutches are only as effective as the guilt of the other person.

When the American civil war was being fought, my fathers family was being forced into servitude in the Bug river area.  My mother's family  were being forced into various resettlement actions. It's part of my GENETIC history, but it is not my PERSONAL history. My personal history was of a shy boy in a rural coal mining town in Western Pennsylvania.  I had to work in the coal mines to save money to go to college to study to become an Engineer.  It was difficult because I had to support my family while  worked and then study hard to get the grades.  Engineering is a technical science and it is not easy.

You won't see me ever complaining about what I had to do to get where I am at.

Are crutches needed in China?

Now, you might be confused why I am bringing all this up.  I will tell you why.  OUR PAST has no bearing on our REALITY. If we have only one leg, we make do and refrain from telling everyone "you MUST give me special attention" because I am disabled. If we have a rotten childhood, we don't go around saying "I deserve special attention because I had a difficult childhood". If we have a big wart on the tip of our nose, we don't point it out to everyone...

Right?

Specific point - please pay attention:

I just want you to know that simply MENTIONING "Race" in China will pretty much get you labeled as a "crybaby" asking for attention. The Chinese will have none of that.  They really will not.

Don't believe me, then ask your Chinese friends what they think about the whole "race" thing in the USA.  Ask them what they think about it. Go ahead.

The point


So, I really do not mean to offend.  I really don't.  However, I can see where you are heading.  In the few words that you wrote here in this topic, just how many times have you mentioned "race". "color of skin", and "topics related to discrimination", and related subjects. Seriously, is it possible for you to talk about ANYTHING without mentioning these subjects?

China is not the USA.

You will seriously need to have a deep reappraisal of who you are and what you expect from your trip.  Failure to do so will result in some hard-feelings.  China is not the USA.  They will not tolerate such a lamentable behavior. They will smile to your face, and you will be shunned.

Perhaps that is precisely WHY you have heard reports such as you have...

China is a nation of nerds, and the nation is one of a meritocracy. If you show any signs that appear to ask for "special attention" you will be shunned. Please, there is no need for this. Come with an open mind.  Come with an open heart.  Expect no special treatment.  Expect to work hard, and be rewarded for your efforts.

Expect nothing else.

Summary

I hope that you listen and understand the point that I am making here.  I am just telling you the truth. If you, as a foreigner (a waigu ren) you will be treated within a fixed societal range of standards.  If you show any signs of weakness, or expectations, that range of standards will change.  You MUST absolutely keep your "face" (mingzi) as high (hen gao) as possible.  Otherwise you WILL be a pariah.

Specifically you should expect pay based upon your appearance AND your actions.  You will need to be kind, helpful and smile a lot.  f you do this you will thrive.

If you do any complaining, or asking for special consideration, you will have a difficult time.

Hi,

China is a country with 56 nationalities,all nations are very friendly and peaceful in economic and cultural communication in the  great country.
Did you ever read China history, do you know about current China? why do you specially bring the racial discrimination questions in China?
Please be acting as kind and respect to others first, you will be treated kind from others (in Chinese writing  :Yu Ren Wei Shan 与人为善).
Also, nothing can be gained without any effort.
Cite a Chinese proverb, Gods reward the diligent (In Chinese writing :Tian Dao Chou Qin 天道酬勤).

Hey,

I bring it up because it's been a recurring stumbling block and I am black. I'm also nota minority in my country and although I've spent an extended period living in as a minority in a foreign country it wasn't China. And there were different kinds of encounters black foreigners noted.

It doesn't take away from what China has to offer nor does it make all Chinese people racist and/ or hostile. It simply means that walking down the street is not the same for all people even though it's in the same place.

Manners and demeanor only come in to play after the initial visual encounter- look, see, class (based  on preconceived notions). Not all the people we encounter become familiar with us, but all the people we encountere affect our experience.

You know how profiling at the airport can have the only Arab in a group of friends having to step aside for a search separate from the group of friends they're with? We're all going to get on the plane and enjoy our trip, but when we look back the Arab friend says: jeez, and that airport search... but only they were subject to it. Not because the airport officials are bad people. Not because the friend looked suspicious.

Here is the SECRET...

Smile, accept and integrate. Learn the language.

Never talk about yourself. Talk about how wonderful the new friends you have are, and how great China is. Talk in your broken Chinese how much you love China.  Talk about China.  Talk about how great it is. Avoid expat communities.  Make Chinese friends, eat Chinese food, do Chinese activities.

Isn't that the same thing in your own home country? When people come to your country don't you want to be with them and know them if they smile and try to talk to you?  Don't you feel good when they try to speak English and eat your food?

Aren't you just a little bit resentful, if they come to your nation.  Don't learn your languages, culture, dress or act like you?  Especially when they tell you that you need to change YOUR ways that their ways are superior.

When in doubt, keep your mouth shut and just simply smile. You will be fine.

"You know how profiling at the airport can have the only Arab in a group of friends having to step aside for a search separate from the group of friends they're with? We're all going to get on the plane and enjoy our trip, but when we look back the Arab friend says: jeez, and that airport search... but only they were subject to it. Not because the airport officials are bad people. Not because the friend looked suspicious."

Get used to it. 

China is particularly sensitive to this subject.  Consider the Muslims that hijacked a plane in Beijing and tortured and killed everyone one board.  Or, the Muslims that attacked the subway station in KuMing and just went about killing everyone shouting "God is Great" while they gunned down a little 95 year old grandmother in her walker, threw two year old against the wall and stomped them to death.  Or consider the torture of Chinese at the hands of Muslims in Shenzhen.

It's a real fear.  Based upon EXPERIENCE.

No need to worry~
Beijing is a huge city, most people are from other cities or countries, won't be racism to others.

New topic

Moving to Beijing

Find tips from professionals about moving to Beijing

Travel insurance in Beijing

Enjoy stress-free travel to Beijing