Discussion Section: An All-Foreign Ghetto in Chengdu?

So much has been said about Tibet that we’re going to ignore it (except to say that this is stupid). Instead, let’s talk about this (hat tip to Chengdu Living for the link).

Basically, Chengdu is constructing a high end district that will house around 5,000 foreigners — no Chinese allowed. Foreigners, it seems, won’t be able to buy any property in the district, only rent it. The idea, of course, is to attract investment and, to some extent, to control the way foreigners experience the city. Still, we have to ask, is there anyone who thinks this is a good idea?

According to Chengdu Living, netizens have already started calling it a modern day concession, comparing it to the portions of Chinese territory that were carved out and ceded to foreign countries in the 1800s. Foreigners have also expressed concerns about the project, as many enjoy feeling as though they live in a foreign country and not a Westernized ghetto.

Personally, I expect it will be a disaster, and I remain amused by the idea that all foreigners share common cultural practices: “Of course all the foreigners should live together! After all, they’re all from Foreign Country, right? They can get together and celebrate their Foreign Holiday!”

So what do you think? All-foreigner living quarters in Chengdu: a good idea or a disaster waiting to happen?

0 thoughts on “Discussion Section: An All-Foreign Ghetto in Chengdu?”

  1. This is when a guy in a tux jumps out and sings MISTAAAAAAAAAAKE!

    If the idea is really to attract investment, I think it will horribly backfire because, in addition to the reasons above, privacy concerns will do a lot to keep people away. There’s already a sense, somewhat justified, that foreigners are frequently monitored in China, be it by the Beijing government, provincial and local governments, or even just overly curious and unsubtle neighbors. I’m concerned that a lot of what goes on in this neighborhood and most of the electronic communication in and out will be closely tracked, and even if that isn’t true, the suspicion alone that moving in means giving up privacy could be enough to keep people away.


  2. I really hope the plan gets shelved, because, among other things, it will only fuel the nationalists who rail against perceived privileges for foreigners.

    It’s also a monumentally stupid idea, and smacks of CCP-think: let’s keep all the troublesome foreigners in one place where we can keep an eye on them. If they go ahead, what’s the betting that the local PSB introduces a regulation stating that all foreigners in Chengdu must reside in downtown laowai district for ‘safety’ reasons?


  3. “…the suspicion alone that moving in means giving up privacy could be enough to keep people away.”

    Let’s hope so.

    I refused to stay in the designated ‘foreigners building’ at one university in China. They weren’t happy about it – said they were worried about how I’d take care of myself. Yeah, right.

    Plus what Custer was saying, you lose big time on the cultural experience.


  4. @ Dylz: A Scrubs reference! Nice. However, longtime ChinaGeeks readers will know that I give the best compliments to The Wire references, and anything by Joss Whedon that isn’t Dollhouse. 30 Rock and The Office are also acceptable.

    @ Stuart: Yeah, the paranoid part of me could see that happening very easily.


  5. The success will depend on how this project is managed. Allowing foreigners to live in the same location will reduce the “home-sickness” and allow them to share their experiences. There’s no mention of what the plan is when dealing with altercations between foreigners (i.e. Israeli’s v.s. Arabs). One would think Chinese law applies. There definitely will be problems if residents are not subject to Chinese laws and using policies similar to South Africa’s apartheid (i.e. no Chinese allowed to drink from this fountain or ride on this bus). This is assuming that this compound have shops and restaurants in addition to living quarters. If this compound comprise of living quarters, the Chinese locals should be allowed to enter (upon invitation) for visits. I’m sure foreigners will make friends with local people and would like to invite some of them over for dinner for example.

    Another issue that could cause problems is if this project was initiated / funded by foreigners. Foreigners buying property and restricting access to foreigners should not be allowed. It’s possible to bribe local authorities to hide this fact. I certainly don’t want to be standing next to them when the locals find out. No doubt there will be problems if the Chinese decide to buy property over here in North America and restricted access to only Chinese people.

    No problems with restricting foreigners from buying property. It’s their land so they can do whatever pleases them. If foreigners don’t like such rules they can ignore the Chinese market and go elsewhere. Canada has rules where foreign corporations are restricted from entering the Canadian market if they are the majority shareholder. Why? Because it’s their country.


  6. @Malakai, yeah, it’ll be really awkward if the waiguoren aren’t allowed to have Chinese guests in the compound. My experience in Beijing was that foreigners most prefer living in mixed areas where they get plenty of chances to know Chinese people but can still find people from their home countries or regions to get a taste of home.


  7. @Stuart, I love how these things are always justified for safety reasons. Two days after I moved to Beijing uniformed police and a few of the informal neighborhood leaders showed up at my door and interviewed me for 45 minutes for “safety reasons.” It’s a sentiment that’s clearly less to reassure the waiguoren and more to justify these things to the locals and make the waiguoren sound like ungrateful jerks. Some of my students, in complete compassionate sincerity, were surprised and concerned to find out that I would go around Beijing on my own without a strong grasp of Chinese or Chinese companions, thinking that it couldn’t possibly be safe for me.

    (Also, don’t think I’m just ripping on the police. My only other experience with the police other than their occasionally helping me with directions was when I was passed on the street by a line of recruits only to hear them shout from behind me “Hello!” and then run away giggling.)


  8. Plus what Custer was saying, you lose big time on the cultural experience.

    and you have described your cultural experience here: the chinese you meet are racists and animal abusers. oh the evil people.


  9. This is 99% unrelated to the topic, so I am sorry (but the topic IS about Laowais and I am a Laowai who is clueless when it comes to computer issues.) Hope someone can help: my RSS feed the China Geeks goes through Feedproxy (Firefox), which is in turn blocked in China. Any way to work around this? Yep, I know I can check the home page every day, but seeing as how Laowai are lazy and need hand holding and all, I’m hoping someone can give me an easy workaround solution. Thanks!


  10. This seems like a bad idea. But perhaps it is really an attempt to get around recently imposed restrictions on building villas and luxury apartments? Wasn’t there an attempt from Beijing to do this in the past year or two to cool down the over-heated property sector? If this project fails the first time around, then perhaps the empty villas could eventually be re-sold to aspiring local owners?

    Beyond that theory, I agree with comments from Dylz, Stuart, and Malakai.

    Additionally, what about foreigners who happen to have Chinese spouses and or mixed-race children? Not sure how such a compound would benefit them; hopefully enforcement would err on the side of kindness. (though I wouldn’t rely on that)

    One wonders what would happen to foreigners if they happened to bring new local boyfriends or girlfriends home for the evening.

    The question of how ethnically Chinese people with foreign passports would be treated there is a thought as well…though I guess it would probably be fine if one provided appropriate documentation and cash.


  11. Ridiculous. Who goes to China in hopes of living in a foreigners’ ghetto and socializing only with other visitors?

    Also, the premise here that regular Chinese housing is not good enough for foreigners is insulting to both groups. Expats don’t need foreigner babysitting (with, I imagine, the usual laowei markup on everything), and Chinese don’t need a posh no-Chinese section of town.


  12. @Meg – While I personally love learning about China and wanted to experience the culture & make new friends while being there, I did come across some of the types of people (foreign) who made it adamantly clear that they were only here for work and were pretty miserable.

    Perhaps those people would appreciate such a place to live as what is being referred to in Chengdu…if they weren’t already being put up in luxury villas already. I don’t think there’s any pleasing such folks unless they are on their home soil.

    I hope that species of isolationist foreigner is a relic…it depends.


  13. Many people in China slip into the the notion that ‘foreign’ in China means American, and that foreigners are all the same and can be happily lumped together and catered for. The reality is in fact that it means everything that isn’t Chinese. Many Chinese in fact see Christmas and valentines day as ‘foreign’ ideas, but of course these are ‘western’ festivals. The confusion from the Chinese oversimplification and not fully being clear about the difference between ‘western’ and ‘foreign’ will come when Japanese, Koreans, Pakistanis, Nigerians, Kenyans, Russians and a host of other nationalities could live in the same place, making the job of the security guards confusing and stressful!

    Although there may be a few groups of isolationists that could welcome the idea, mainly for a few temporary engineers and other experts who are sent from many countries to China sometimes against their wishes by companies, but earn well when they are here, some of whom have no or little interest in being in China, its culture or people.


  14. China used to be like this, with only approved hotels and apartment buildings designated for occupation by non-Chinese nationals. That was just crazy and inevitably went away.
    I wonder how much of this is spin also. A large number of hotels exist in China that have serviced apartment blocks as well as regular hotel rooms. The serviced apartment blocks serve a mainly foreign only group of residents stationed long term in China. A typical capacity might be for a resident populace of 300-1000.
    I have no idea of Chengdu’s foreign population. I’d estimate it at around 15,000 foreign residents (that’s way below somewhere like Shanghai, but in line with higher profile 2nd tier cities). (I could be wildly wrong, does Chengdu Living know?) These 15,000 residents probably live somewhere already, so this development will affect a lot of private landlords and hotel like people.
    I’d conclude this is either a sad example of property investment gone wrong (and all that goes with it regarding China’s its business customs, and cultural view of enough people with clout in business/gov’t, neither of which are sadly rare); a purposeful embezzlement of money in a deliberately stupid project (which’ll get declared bankrupt, get repossessed for someone, and redeveloped into a design is was secretly originally designed for (also not rare); a mis-labelled project where hotels in Chengdu and some university halls of residence get relocated into some kind of ‘international CBD’ area and the linked article’s getting the wrong end of the stick.


  15. All signs point to this being a disaster waiting to happen. Proponents say that this will be an easy way for foreign executives to ease into live in Chengdu, but I don’t think those people are numerous enough to warrant a community of 5,000. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but judging by the reaction that this has garnered from foreigners and Chinese already, it doesn’t seem destined to play out the way the developers have planned.


  16. Hi everyone, I am the author of the orig post, mad props to ChinaGeeks for taking the discussion deeper and to everyone who replied. @ Alex The foreign community in Chengdu is currently estimated to be around 30,000. That includes EVERYbody that isn’t Chinese. Specific numbers for other nationalities are hard to get


  17. “Laowai Land”, where Laowais, of all curious shapes and outlandish sizes live in a naturalistic habitat complete with faux Western architecture, coffee bars with all the exact same menu, and more poorly stocked wine shops per square meter than any other place on Earth. Listen as Laowais speak their funny Laowai language, English, watch as they observe their bizarre Laowai festivals such as Santa Claus Day, since they are all white Christians…

    It’s a joke, right?


  18. @Dan True, I did meet a few foreigners who wanted to stay in their expat social circles and live in luxury apartments catering to Western guests. But to me it seems to defeat the entire purpose of coming to China, and gives you all the annoyances (language difficulties, the staring) without any of the enjoyment and excitement of living a new life in a foreign country. Although I guess one could stay in the laowei ghetto all the time and never be stared at or have to speak Chinese…


  19. Not sure where you get all your info or ideas but sounds a bit rubbish to me. I know about the project as my school will build a premises in the area and I have met with the government. There is absolutely no rule that foreigners must live in that area, they simply are providing conveniences for foreign investors such as places of worship, schools etc.

    Personally I have two properties here and don’t associate with many ‘foreigners’ and have zero pressure to do otherwise. As for 30,000 foreigners currently in Chengdu. I have a good friend who works with the PSB and they assured me there are less than 3000 registered residents here and most of those are from asia, the rest are tourists or business visas

    As for the community you are talking about, if you go there you will see there is no room for 5000 people to live there, it is tiny, perhaps 500-800 max. It is just outside the round Chengdu expressway in the south


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