Business is booming in China. Foreign companies and Chinese companies alike are doing everything they can to gain a competitive edge in the lucrative and ever-growing market. Doing business in China is not always about having the best product or the best sales pitch. Sometimes it is all about who you know. In Chinese culture this is commonly referred to as “face.” The more international and well-connected a company appears, the more “face” it has, and the more likely it will be able to receive financial support. And what better way for a Chinese company to appear international than to have a white guy on staff… at least for the weekend?
This new business phenomenon is known as “renting a white guy.” News of this unique business venture first appeared in an article released by The Atlantic Magazine, when Mitch Moxley, a writer in Beijing, wrote a confession article about his work as a quality-control expert with an American firm. His job was to wear a suit and shake some hands. His pay for a week’s worth of work was $1000. No experience necessary. The only real requirement was to have a fair complexion and a nice suit. CNN also took on the story, interviewing two similar “businessmen” who were living in China.
When I first heard about this experience it sounded so bizarre that I didn’t believe it–until I was offered a similar opportunity while living in China. I was offered a job as the Director of Development for Day’s Inn. I was paid to fly to Southern China and spend the weekend attending a groundbreaking ceremony for a new five-star hotel that was being built. The company gave me business cards and a background story. Other than that, I was just asked to be polite and smile big.
|I’m sure this is the highest up the corporate latter I’ll ever get：Director of Development （发展总监：fāzhǎn zǒngjiān|
Aside from discovering that I look pretty good in a suit, I realized that “renting” a white guy does a lot more for the company in that it does for whomever is being hired. The company gains a high level of “face” for a relatively low price. Rather than pay the high salary of an international businessman they can hire a Chinese citizen to do the same job for a fraction of the price. If for some reason they company needs to have a more international appearance they simply outsource the task to a more-than-willing expat. Looking past the apparent strangeness of the situation, it is really just a sort of reputational outsourcing, similar to having a celebrity appear in an ad to sell a product. We shouldn’t be laughing at the situation, we should be taking notes. Given the current financial situation in American, I have a feeling that it won’t be long before we find ourselves playing the same game, hiring Chinese speakers to help secure the next big business deal.
Of course, If you are looking for other ways to make a few extra bucks, then playing a foreign extra is another option. Playing an extra means sitting around for hours on end (a great way to practice your Chinese), and the pay is usually 50 kuai an hour. If you speak Chinese relatively well you could land a bigger part, but that typically requires an audition. I spoke to one gentleman who landed a speaking role, and he was making around 3000 kuai for half a day’s work. Either way you’ll want to find an agent, or have them find you, and they can help set everything up. It isn’t Hollywood, but if you don’t feel like tutoring, than it’s another option.
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