Lara Farrar, CNN, June 29, 2010
In China, white people can be rented.
For a day, a weekend, a week, up to even a month or two, Chinese companies are willing to pay high prices for fair-faced foreigners to join them as fake employees or business partners.
Some call it “White Guy Window Dressing.” To others, it’s known as the “White Guy in a Tie” events, “The Token White Guy Gig,” or, simply, a “Face Job.”
And it is, essentially, all about the age-old Chinese concept of face. To have a few foreigners hanging around means a company has prestige, money and the increasingly crucial connections–real or not–to businesses abroad.
“Face, we say in China, is more important than life itself,” said Zhang Haihua, author of “Think Like Chinese.” “Because Western countries are so developed, people think they are more well off, so people think that if a company can hire foreigners, it must have a lot of money and have very important connections overseas. So when they really want to impress someone, they may roll out a foreigner.”
Or rent one.
The requirements for these jobs are simple. 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.
Those who go for such gigs tend to be unemployed actors or models, part-time English teachers or other expats looking to earn a few extra bucks. Often they are jobs at a second- or third-tier city, where the presence of pale-faced foreigners is needed to impress local officials, secure a contract or simply to fulfill a claim of being international.
“Occasionally companies want a foreign face to go to meetings and conferences or to go to dinners and lunches and smile at the clients and shake people’s hands,” read an ad posted by a company called Rent A Laowai (Chinese for “foreigner”) on the online classified site thebeijinger.com.
It continued: “There are job opportunities for girls who are pretty and for men who can look good in a suit.”
White women are also a hot commodity, sometimes to pose as phony foreign girlfriends, or, in the case of Vicky Mohieddeen, to pretend to be an oil tycoon.
Mohieddeen, who is Scottish, took a job in 2008 to attend what she describes as some sort of “oil drilling conference” in Shandong province for 300 yuan ($44). Several busloads of foreigners, with nationalities ranging from Pakistani to Nigerian, were trucked to the event, she said. They were greeted by brass bands and 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.”