The shifting meanings of whiteness in China’s ESL industry

Dr. Shanshan Lan presented a paper, "The shifting meanings of whiteness in China’s ESL industry" in the Sixth Annual ACGS Conference: Racial Orders, Racist Borders, at the University of Amsterdam, October 17-18, 2019.

This paper examines how changing state immigration policies impact the daily life experiences of white English teachers in Beijing. Specifically, it examines how multiple meanings of whiteness are imagined, contested, and performed through interactions between different groups of white migrants and Chinese in China’s ESL industry. The paper finds that the daily life of white ESL teachers in China is marked by a tension between privileges and precariousness. While whiteness remains a hegemonic power at the global scale, it also faces restrictions and challenges in the Chinese context. To a certain extent, white teachers’ experience in China is mediated by their racialization as foreigners. While state immigration policy and commercialized migration brokers contribute to the tension between homogenization and differentiation of whiteness in China, some of the privileges enjoyed by white ESL teachers are in reality based on racialized stereotypes Chinese people hold towards white westerners. In the end, both the Chinese state and ordinary Chinese citizens are playing an active role in defining and redefining the shifting meanings of whiteness.