With the rise of China’s economy, more and more westerners are moving to China for business and job opportunities. One consequence of this reverse migration is the transformation of whiteness from a majority identity in western countries to a minority identity in China. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being white in China’s thriving market economy and consumer culture? How is whiteness racialized in relation to blackness and other immigrant identities in various social domains and in different regions in China? How are multiple versions of whiteness negotiated and performed through daily life interactions between white migrants and Chinese in various social and personal settings?
Chinese state policy regarding international migrants in China
This subproject provides the broader historical, political, and social background for the whole research. It focuses on how state policies in different historical periods impact shifting discourses and practices concerning white westerners in China. It involves archival research of government documents, policy analysis, media studies, and intensive periods of ethnographic fieldwork in different Chines cities.
Performing whiteness in China’s Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) industry
China has the world’s largest ESL market whose value has reached US $4.5 billion in 2016. The diversification of jobs in the field has led to social stratification among English teachers, who can be fulltime faculty in state-funded universities, or part-time teaching staff or volunteer teachers in small private colleges, international kindergartens, after-school tutoring programs, and private English training centers. The proliferation of migration brokers and job recruitment agencies has made it relatively easy for foreigners to find a teaching job in China. However, many work in China with tourist, business or student visas. How do the experiences of English teachers reflect both privileges and precariousness in white racial formation in China?
Performing whiteness in China’s media, fashion, and entertainment industries
The demand for white models, actors, and performers in China’s booming media, fashion and entertainment industries has created a prosperous market for foreigners who are hired mainly because of their white skin and western looks. With the exception of a few superstars, the daily life experiences of white migrants in this domain are far less glamorous than the roles they play. Due to the many obstacles of obtaining a work permit in China, a considerable number of white migrants work in China on short-term basis with tourist visas or student visas and face the danger of being arrested and deported by the police. How do race, gender, and sexuality work together in the construction of whiteness in this domain?
Performing whiteness in the transnational corporate business sector in China
Since the early reform years in the 1980s, white westerners have been the most visible group of foreigners in China’s corporate and business sector. However, with the economic crisis in the western world and corporate downsizing, many transnational companies prefer to hire westerners who already live in China to avoid providing expensive relocation packages. Another trend is that top managerial positions are increasingly offered to Chinese with overseas degrees and working experiences. How do white managers cope with increasing competitions from overseas Chinese returnees, whose bilingual and bicultural skills are deemed more desirable in transnational business settings?
Performing whiteness in China’s transnational business and entrepreneurship sector
In addition to the transnational elite class, there are also an increasing number of white migrants who live in China as private business owners and student-turned entrepreneurs. Some started as English teachers, but later managed to start small- or medium-sized businesses related to language training or transnational trade. International students who graduated from Chinese universities also take advantage of their Chinese language skills and knowledge about Chinese culture to start innovative business ventures in China. To what extent is this group of self-employed white migrants perceived differently from white transnational elites?
Reconstructing whiteness in China through interracial romance
From being strictly controlled by the state to the celebration of true love and free choice, interracial romance provides an important window to examine the multiple and shifting racialization of white masculinity and femininity in the context of rapid social transformation in China. This project moves beyond the stereotypical union between white men and Chinese women by exploring some of the latest trends in interracial romance, such as the increase in relationships between Chinese men and white women, and challenges faced by white men in China’s sexual economy, which defines masculinity mainly by one’s economic status.