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Wanted: White Men with Suit and Tie, No Experience Necessary

By June 25, 2010

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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.

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June 26, 2010 at 1:53 am
(1) Jacob22 says:

I posted a post on another website regarding this topic last year. I went to a conference in China a few years back to help out a friend of mine. He is a Chinese man with a software company thats pretty large (about 500 employees). There was a big conference in his city and he invited me to be their foreign representative for the week. Although I actually have business experience and could talk the talk, a lot of my “counter-parts” at the conference were complete jokers. It was basically exactly as this article said. In addition, many of the companies hired white college students there to pass out flyers as well. I thought it was a little insulting to say the least. Oh well, I got a free trip and good food, :)

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