In a country that churns out knockoff goods nearly just as fast as the original products hit stores, it's no surprise that companies in China hire fake employees too. A fantastic firsthand account of one man's time spent working as a quality-control expert is in the July/August edition of The Atlantic.
I was only living in Beijing for a week when I discovered all the opportunities white foreigners had to spend a few hours, days or weeks masquerading as people they weren't. I knew one man who was paid to appear regularly on CCTV as a current affairs commentator. His resume was padded by the TV station to show that, in his mid-20s, he was already an accomplished scholar with several advanced degrees.
So why are companies compelled to have a foreigners present at important company functions like ribbon cutting ceremonies and conferences? Having a white face in the room is almost entirely about having 關係 (guanxi, relationships) or the appearance of guanxi. In Chinese culture having guanxi is crucial and a company or person's survival in business is dependent on it. It also makes the company's image look good to have its token friendly foreigner friend in attendance. Plus, no one will dare question the authenticity of the 老外 (laowai, foreigner) for fear of losing face if the person is, indeed, a legitimate employee.
So, the next time you find yourself in need of a side gig, head to Beijing or Shanghai, hang out in foreign-friendly places like foreign language universities and bars where foreigners are often scouted, and don't forget to pack a nice suit.