Discussion Section: Do Foreigners Matter?

Sometimes, we get tired of hearing the sound of our own voice. Er, reading the sound of our own…prose? Anyway, the point is, we’re introducing a new series here at ChinaGeeks. Every now and then, when an interesting question occurs to us, we’re just going to pose it to you, the reader.

Today’s Question: Do Foreigners Matter?

More and more people outside the PRC are paying attention as the country grows stronger each year. More people are studying Chinese, and more people are traveling to China for fun, study, and work. But do these people — including many of us — really matter to China as a nation? That is to say, are our opinions about China worth listening to? Can we influence the development of China in any way? Expats make up such a small percentage of the Chinese population that they’re rarely even listed in demographic surveys. On the other hand, if foreigners can’t have any effect on China, why do they keep banning us from going to Tibet?

Feel free to approach the question or interpret it as you see fit, however, please try to keep your responses ON TOPIC.

0 thoughts on “Discussion Section: Do Foreigners Matter?”

  1. Old Tales Retold;

    I’m not the one pulling up sentences like “God’s gift to the Chinese people”; your words yet you accuse me of exaggerations. I’ve argued foreigners don’t matter and you reply with the slur of cynicism, but somehow you’ve managed to say you “more or less” agree and “more or less” disagree with me. You then devolve to noting “Anti-CNN needs CNN” to show that, yes, foreigners in China matter.

    I confess I’m at a loss to continue this with you whose biggest complaint seems to be my certainty. And I’m not here to answer to “foreigner’s delusions of grandeur” and more such purple prose.


  2. @Scottsoar,
    I do admit that I didn’t really make myself very clear in my above comment. What I was trying to argue is that what you seem to be referring to are in fact the stereotypes created for political reasons, so in a way yes, they are all in some way or the other a variant of 中体西用 (although I would say that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” has become merely an empty slogan). However, if you infer from these political representations that every single Chinese person acts and behaves in exactly the same way (as the mouthpiece of the CCP), then you are very wrong. You are stereotyping and generalising (and sorry, but your argument does not really have much of a foundation either, apart from the Chinese people’s “pronounced inability to accept different points of view and their general rejection of any evidence which contradicts their beliefs”). I can assure you that there are enough Chinese living abroad who do not prefer insularity, who are actually quite open-minded and open to new ideas (and no, it’s not only a few exceptions). I think Old Tales Retold put it quite well; any interaction at any point in any situation will somehow make an impact. So, give me a good reason why and how interactions between foreigners and Chinese on a very personal, micro level would NOT make any difference (and this has nothing to do with wanting to enlighten the Chinese).

    Regarding cross-cultural communications in general, isn’t it strange how intercultural communications almost always seem to have the tendency to reduce the diversity of traditions and the multiplicity of regional cultures and subcultures to one single overarching one, which is supposed to represent everything and everyone within it. So @wooddoo, I’d really be interested what you have in mind when you talk about the different “Chinese” side of the argument with regards to this question? (This is a genuine question:-))


  3. @ ScottLoar,

    Maybe my biggest complaint is indeed with your certainty! My experience of China has a lot more gray areas and contradictions and a lot more instances of “more or less” than yours clearly does. So, I think your arguments have some validity, but only up to a point… like most broad statements about China or any country.

    At any rate, I apologize for adopting a surly tone earlier. The internet seems to bring out a certain snarky-ness in me.


  4. Great post!

    I’d have to agree with the lot that says foreigners here don’t matter. We really don’t, not even to our Chinese spouses or close Chinese friends. We are here for ourselves, for novelty and adventure and, in some cases, to further the force of our country’s economic might (a worthy cause).

    I’m not sure why some foreigners are so keen on making a difference, in correcting cultural misconceptions and prejudices the Chinese have of us. I’d argue that such attempts are worse than futile, they actually support and extend the prejudices. No matter what you say or do, the Chinese will find a way to twist it to conform to their views. Instead, you’d be better to be who your country made you to be – not a self-appointed diplomat, but a crude little white man of curious nature and ruthless instinct. If I may, I’ll take that American kid – I call him “Rain Man” – who threw money at the Chinese kids, as an example of a foreigner that matters.

    First, are there really any “cultural misperceptions” here? You couldn’t have been surprised that this guy was an American. We do do things like that. And the Chinese do do things like that (i.e. put themselves below others for economic gain). It’s a perfect fit, really. I find no “cultural misconceptions”. It’s not unusual for me to see my customers/suppliers throwing money at KTV girls. It seems to be traditional Chinese culture (sorry rappers, the Chinese created “rain”, too) and our American friend has caught on quicker than most. That’s ironic, but not moronic.

    You seemed hurt by the behavior of this young man and the comments from the Chinese. While I respect your desire to reconcile the differences between Americans and Chinese, I do find you slightly naive for believing that 1. anything you do will have a positive influence on the opinion Chinese hold of foreigners (especially Americans) and 2. that expats actually care. Most expats who have spent a couple of months in China do not hold any ideas about altering these perceptions, and even fewer (read: none) are “fighting” for such a goal. Learning their language, being nice to them, using chopsticks, or eating chicken hearts won’t help either. You’d simply be an animal in their circus. The basic character of the Chinese hasn’t changed for thousands of years, why would it now? Oh, is it because you’re American or because you can speak Chinese? Are you that arrogant or just plain stupid? Besides, they don’t even treat their own in a humane manner, what makes you expect more when they deal with you? Again, is it arrogance or stupidity that drives your thinking?

    I’d suggest accepting your status as sub-human and using any “cultural misconceptions” to further your own interest and those of your country. Most rational (expats by definition are not rational) expats understand this and instead of trying to change the Chinese, they simply attempt to normalize them (this matters). First, by controlling the money (on payday, I take pleasure in going to the factory floor, shutting down the production line, grabbing the ol’ bullhorn and yelling “下雨了”. At first they didn’t get it, but now they know what’s real). And second, treating them poorly. These will get you what you’ve always been looking for in China – not understanding, but results.

    If you’re hurt, it’s less because this kid’s behavior perpetuated the idea of Americans as arrogant and crude people, and more because you’ve never “made it rain” yourself. May I ask, when’s the last time you got the better of a Chinese in a conversation or negotiation? Never. I can feel you, though. You’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the Chinese, sharing your feelings, learning the language, making some concessions about the flaws in the American character, and maybe (definitely) even some kow towing. And all you’ve got to show is this lousy blog (which I like and read daily). This kid, on the other hand, who is barely old enough to drive, was in China for maybe 5 days, has already forgotten the few Chinese phrases he learned, and is back in the States trading bong hits with girls from the volleyball team, telling them how he “dominated”. He never sacrificed his dignity to be an English teacher, so he’s not a moron; and he doesn’t understand when people call him a “black donkey” or a “foreign devil”, so he has something neither of us have – peace of mind. He’s a legend. He’s the “laowai” you want to be, but can’t! Simply put, he matters because he reinforced the stereotype that Americans are rich, ruthless, and can dominate Chinese people. And that, whether a pretty thing or not, matters.

    Look at his smile. It’s priceless. He’d do well in my company. Think he’d be interested in going from high school straight to the pros (Z-visa)? Anyone have his contact info?

    One final note: If you’re really interested in improving the perceptions Chinese have of foreigners, then you’d do well to encourage the deportation of all English teachers, wretched creatures they are.

    Anyway, I need to let my 小秘 practice her English and proofread this (I’m gonna spank her if their are any mistakes in grammar) before I post. Cheers!


  5. “So, give me a good reason why and how interactions between foreigners and Chinese on a very personal, micro level would NOT make any difference”. You apparently haven’t read with understanding anything I’ve written. Continue reading.

    “(I)f you infer from these political representations that every single Chinese person acts and behaves in exactly the same way (as the mouthpiece of the CCP), then you are very wrong.” No, I never did, I never said so, I never implied so and cannot understand why you assume so. You’re posing an extreme and juvenille situation, divorced from reality, which has nothing to do with my argument or my person.

    “You are stereotyping and generalising”; again, an empty cliche which has nothing to with my argument or my person. I wrote, and how many times have I repeated this here? Why can’t it be understood? – “I said and say again, individuals may be limited exceptions to this rule, but ‘foreigners’ as a whole are regarded simply and purely as ‘foreign’ to the Chinese with all the strangeness and separation that word implies.” Surely anyone with even the most limited experience of living in China can understand this? Has experienced this by being immediately regarded as a tourist, looked upon as someone not Chinese just passing through with not even the slightest hint of what’s going on?

    The stubborn, unfounded insistence that foreigners offer the Chinese people in mainland China a different point of view and are making needed and worthwhile contributions is without example by any of you, and the worst kind of false conceit. If you won’t believe me then take your conceit to the Chinese, to those in your classrooms, to those on the Chinese internet forums, to those who bump into you on the streets, to the grocer, street seller, those to whom you pay rent and hire for services… Go ahead, let them answer you.

    I’m finished.


  6. foreigners matter as much in China as Chinese matter in America or any other Western country……..not one bit.

    Can you really imagine all those patriotic Chinese students in the US changing the minds of the American public……ok I know you are laughing to yourself because you realize how inane it sounds…

    as guests in this country I’m under no illusion that we have as much influence, if not less

    ’nuff said


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