A while ago, I had blogged about how Americans expect their business leaders to be white. When you are a Caucasian male in China, you definitely stand out as a foreigner and probably expected to be a white collar worker at the very least, if not a company executive. So I wasn’t totally surprised and somewhat amused about China’s practice of hiring white expatriates to represent foreign business partners. Mitch Moxley wrote about his experience for The Atlantic.
“And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: ‘Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.'”
I remember back in the mid-90s, I was visiting my high school friend Tom (who happens to be white) in Hong Kong. For the day, we went into Shenzen, China to visit the factory where his company manufactured and assembled small home appliances. I recall quite distinctively him half-way jokingly saying that when he visited the factory, productivity went up by 10%. When we walked through the factory, the Chinese factory workers definitely took notice. The fact that my friend Tom was fluent in Mandarin (and learning Cantonese) and I was less so–the factory workers were none the wiser. But Tom was actually an executive unlike the confessions of the fake businessman.