What is it like as a non-white foreigner living in China: Black, Asian, South Asian, etc.?

I spent about a year in China and I loved my time there. Experiences vary depending on the city you live in. But even in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, racism exists (to a lesser extent, but still). In part because Chinese people don’t have much exposure to black foreigners. The assumption is we’re all poor and from Africa. (People were regularly confused when I told them I’m American.)

But overall I had amazing experiences. People were warm and welcoming, invited me to their homes for dinner, etc. Even in smaller cities, I was greeted with kindness. However, my experiences are biased. 1. I speak some Chinese. So even though my accent was terrible, people were impressed and more willing to engage me. 2. I’m a woman. Black men in China receive the worst treatment relative to other foreigners. They’re kicked out of bars, people assume they’re criminals, etc.

There’s this joke among foreigners in China that we’re all C list celebrities. Photos and gawking are a normal part of living in China. But whites do have some advantages in that they are viewed as better looking, more educated, more wealthy, more trustworthy etc. So for example, a white guy would have an easier time making friends and dating local girls than a black guy.

People would always give me backhanded compliments, like telling me I’m pretty (for a black girl) or that they liked the way I looked (but I should stay out of the sun). These things occur in the US as well. Everyone is just more politically correct with their phrasing in the US (because of the history). China has a culture that prefers pale skin and brutal honesty.

But I do think the current mindset on race is changing, especially among younger people. They’re friendlier and more open minded. Whenever I was at a bar, a Chinese person always bought me a drink. (Men and women.) Not to hit on me but as if to say, “Welcome to my country!” You don’t get that kind of hospitality anywhere else, white or black!

(Source: Quora, by Meklit Gebre-Mariam)

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