Opinion / Nicolas Santo

China, white faces and expertise

By Nicolas Santo ( Updated: 2014-09-17 10:12

This is much deeper than a translation issue. China should not transmit the message that every foreigner is an expert. The remaining social fascination with white foreigners in certain Chinese cities, for example, goes precisely in the other direction.

I recently ran into the acronym LBH. For those who haven't heard of it before, it means "Loser Back Home". According to the Urban Dictionary – a popular tool to learn modern colloquial English expressions – LBH refers to "expatriates (usually hailing from North America or Europe) with low standards that create a completely different persona in their new country". The so-called LBHs, the dictionary adds, are very common in Asian countries, especially in China.

Let me be clear. By writing this column I don’t aim to give credence to this term or this stigmatization. I strongly believe that people deserve second opportunities, either at home or abroad. However, this term highlights the belief that equates the whiteness of your skin to a high level of expertise. To make the relationship between global talent and China a “Hùlì gòng yíng” (win-win) one, there are, in my opinion, three golden rules.

1. Foreigners should not come to do in China what they are not qualified to do in their home countries or elsewhere.

2. Do not assume that white foreigners can perform better than Chinese people.

3. Give top-level talent special treatment regardless of age, race or origin. I have heard many stories from foreigners working for Chinese companies that feel that their employers seem to assume that every foreigner - especially every white foreigner - is equally talented. These kinds of attitudes negatively affect work dynamics and make talented individuals, foreigners and locals alike, feel like running away from their work places.

As China continues to walk towards development and more foreigners become interested in the country, it is important that Chinese society approach coexistence with foreigners more maturely.

The author is an investment consultant withthe Foshan Bureau of Commerce and a former research scholarin China-Latin America Economic Relations at the Harvard Law School and Tsinghua University.

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