Average White Man? China May Have a Job for You

If you’re a white man or woman who has always had a desire to see China, but finding a job teaching English an international company willing to transfer you proves difficult, it turns out there may be another option.

Though it sounds like fodder for Stuff Chinese People Like (inspired by Stuff White People Like, of course), token white person is actually a job some Western expats in China have made into a career. According to CNN, white people – often out of work actors or models, or expats looking to pick up a few extra yuan, are often rented by companies to give a sense of prestige and international connections.

The requirements? “1. Be white. 2. Do not speak any Chinese, or really speak at all, unless asked. 3. Pretend like you just got off of an airplane yesterday.” {CNN}

The hired actors pose as anything from architects to oil tycoons, and duties can range from simply showing up at dinners or lunches to shake hands and look important, to actually presenting business cards and engaging in fictitious conversations through a “translator,” who is in reality not translating anything, but answering on behalf of the company. Longer term rentals aren’t unheard of, with some companies hiring white people to simply sit in offices for a few hours where customers can see them. For women, the opportunities range from foreign girlfriend to business executive.

Vicky Mohieddeen, a Scottish woman, took a job where she pretended to be an oil tycoon. The conference she attended, apparently wanted some diversity in the foreigners attending: people of nationalities ranging from Pakistani to Nigerian were brought to the event where they were feted with a sumptuous dinner.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, we have a lot of oil in Scotland.’ I didn’t know what to say. It was a bit nerve-racking. We were guests of honor of the vice mayor. We were put in a nice hotel. It was quite fancy. It is part of what China is all about, you know. There is quite an elaborate fantasy world going on here where if everyone buys into it, it does not matter if it is the truth. Those kinds of experiences give me a fuller understanding of the way the culture works.”

Israeli student Valera Kovtun also attended an oil conference where he was assigned to portray (imaginary) Egyptian investor Abdullah Hamedi. The task? Pass out business cards, pretend to be interested in the oil technology being presented and attend a banquet where he was one of the guests of honor.

Asked if he had any qualms about the practice, Kovtun said “I don’t mind what they do to themselves. Basically the government people trying to con the government people.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. An American actor who uses the name Brad Smith received a visit from Beijing police at his apartment after a financial company he briefly worked at in Xi’an, a city in western China, allegedly swindled millions of yuan out of clients. “That company said I was the guy in charge. I didn’t even remember the company’s name,” he said.

But it wasn’t enough to stop him from continuing a career as the token white guy. “After that, I decided I was never going to use my passport again with these fake companies. The small gigs are much less dangerous.”

And you thought American Apparel’s hiring practices were questionable.

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