Special favors for foreigners spark resentment

By Liu Yan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/6 19:28:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A deputy mayor of Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province was recently caught in a controversy for showing courtesy, perhaps too much of it, to an international friend.

After a 21-year-old woman from Zimbabwe gave birth in a local hospital, the deputy mayor paid a visit to the hospital despite the heavy rain.

When the news was reported by a local newspaper with a laudatory tone, it sparked strong dissatisfaction from netizens.

They questioned the motivation of the deputy mayor. Local government officials responded that the Zimbabwean woman received the visit because she was all alone in the city. A local staff member admitted that the reaction on the Internet was unexpected.

Was the visit necessary? There are many ways to look at the incident. Suppose the woman was left uncared for in the hospital and experienced serious complications. This could be turned into an issue and local authorities could be criticized for discriminating against people of color.

Also, though the presence of foreigners is common in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, they are still a rare sight in smaller towns, and thus could still be given favorable treatment.

When it comes to African people, interaction between them and local Chinese is even rarer. It is customary for Chinese to show hospitality for guests coming from afar. In this sense, an official visiting a Zimbabwean woman hospitalized in a small Chinese city is in accordance with Chinese etiquette.

Whenever news of this sort breaks out, it triggers a debate over whether there is still foreigner-worshipping sentiment in China. It happens quite often that police go an extra mile to find a lost wallet for a tourist from abroad. Several months ago in Kunming, police contacted hundreds of taxis drivers to help a Dutch tourist find a digital recorder he lost in a car. This "warm-hearted" action was understandably scorned by the public, who think police often ignore requests of local people.

While Chinese people think administrative agencies are unnecessarily currying the favor of foreigners, expats, on the contrary, think they are often discriminated against in Chinese society. They can be given special treatment, but they could also be the target of a scam by a street vendor. A lot of expats have the experience of being turned town by taxi drivers. Expats even think the way they are addressed by local Chinese, as waiguoren or foreigners, indicates a psychological distance from local people.

Contradictions in the way foreigners are treated have long existed in China, but the situation is changing quickly. When I was younger, there was a special ticket window at the train station for passport holders, presumably foreigners, and the line there was much shorter. However, at the ticket window in the park, the fare for foreigners was typically higher than for locals.

Those days are gone, but not completely. There are still cases in which expats are hired to endorse a certain product or a property site simply because of their appearance. Universities are expanding enrollment of foreign-born students to attract more applicants. The subtle message is that endorsement by expats represents better quality. But as Chinese are getting richer and no longer look upon expats in terms of wealth, such promotional schemes will no longer work, if not achieving the opposite effect.

China and Chinese people have come a long way of getting a clear understanding of internationalization. As China is not an immigration country, foreign-looking expats will continue to be a rarity, so courtesy, or even special treatment, may stay for a long time. This shouldn't be considered foreigner-worshipping. Nonetheless, it may be unnecessary to spend extra administrative resources for finding a wallet for a foreign guest.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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