Question about Racism in China

What About Us? - bfegter
“Racism against black people may be the strongest form of

racism in China

,” says one site: The China Expat…

I’m a black college student in America. I have a few questions about teaching English in China.

 First off, great blog! I just discovered it today and have read some very funny and insightful posts.
But I would like to ask you directly about the issues that potential black English teachers face when applying to programs in China.  After looking around online I’ve read some very mixed posts about the difficulties faced by black teachers in China.  Now, I’ve already visited Shenzhen this past month for a 3-week stay, and although there was a lot of staring (sometimes it got a little awkward) and picture-taking, I found the locals to be very cool and welcoming. So, I just wanted to know if the supposed racism faced by black teachers is only found in the educational system?  And if it is, is it by the school officials?  Parents?  Students?
Also, how would you rate your own personal experience as a teacher over there? 
Sorry for the long-winded question lol But I just want to get some direct input on this issue as I would be spending at least a year there following graduation.  Thanks in advance, and keep up the great posts!

I want to first congratulate you on having the opportunity to teach in China.  It is an experience you will always remember and you might end up spending more than a year here.  Many people learn a lot about them selves while they are here.

To answer your questions… you know I want to first tell you that I am going to be honest with you… there are good and bad people here.   It is not in just the teaching industry it is in the whole country.

I want to first focus on the teaching industry.   In China education is number one, so the parents spend a lot of time and money on educating their children.   However, they are not quite as educated themselves on many things… one is the race.   In their mind, Americans are white, blue-eyed, blonde haired people…. they just recently figured out there are other races… when Obama became president.    So, one problem is them believing you are really american…. another problem is the Africans…. Chinese people don’t know the difference between Africans and Black Americas… so they lump us all together….. unfortunately, some of our African brothers and sisters… do not behave well in China… and often lie about who they are… claiming they are American… and since Chinese people don’t know the difference…. they get us confused and we have a bad name and blamed for many things that happen.

It has taken me a full three years… to get the people in my city to understand, who I am; where I come from and to get some sort of respect… and a lot of that has to do with my teaching skills and the fact I am married to a chinese man.  (it helps that he is local also)  However, I can see the difference when the I run into Africans… they are very ghetto and loud… they dress very revealing, and really make a point of standing out… this might be okay in European and Western countries.. but in China it is the exact opposite of what you should do… here you need to blend as much as possible.   They don’t like when you stand out….. too much.

I have had parents… not want black people to teach their students… students that claimed they are afraid of the teachers because they are too black…. and I even had a teacher that had to move because… the neighbors were afraid of her in the dark.  It can get pretty bad  in some places sometimes.  It is a big lack of education and knowledge, what you don’t know you are afraid of in a lot of cases here.

I live in a small city…. by chinese standards…(1 million people) there are very few foreigners here… as a whole… some travel in and out… but only about 20 stay here all the time… (6 months to a year) …I am one of about 10 full-time foreigners in my town…. and I am the only Black american for miles …. and miles.

Yes, in the big cities it is a little easier .. to live… because of the modern conveniences… and there are more foreigners… but… the job situation will be about the same everywhere in china.   You have to remember they haven’t had a civil rights movement, not even a women’s rights movement…. so they are still thinking along the lines of … before MLK….. it takes time for things to change…. and the more educated and experienced Black  Americans that come over the more changes we can see.

This is the truth…. it is hard in China for Black people… but .. not impossible.… I know many Black Americans that have lived in China for 10 years or more…. and don’t plan on leaving any time soon… you just have to have patience with their ignorances.. and blend as much as possible…learn the language.. learn the customs…. and accept that somethings you just can’t change.

Thanks for all your questions and emails I am happy to answer each and every one of them.  I get this question a lot so I choose to print it on my blog for all of you. 

  Just remember “Nothing is easy… but who wants to have nothing?”


33 thoughts on “Question about Racism in China

  1. Greg

    I teach ESL. I’ve been doing it off and on since 1979. I tried to get a job in Japan as soon as I got my Masters. I had studied Japanese as an undergrad-in fact I got the only passing grade (A) in the class; the other students went to the dean and accused me of cheating (on an oral exam!!)-and my closest friend in grad school was Japanese. I got a job but when the school requested a photo for the visa, the job offer was rescinded. Three more attempts with the same outcome. So I gave up and went to Saudi because it was the only place where race was not an issue and I could make decent money to pay back my college loans.

    In 1988 I managed to get a job in Seoul. I applied because I wanted to see the Olympics. I’m sure the only reason I got the job was the school was ELS, an American company. It was the worst year of my life. I was spit at and called names as I walked down the street every day. Also I was subjected to racist comments by students in class. And of course protests from parents who didn’t want me teaching their kids. I had thought the Koreans would be more accustomed to seeing black people because of the huge military presence in Seoul, that they wouldn’t be as racist as the Japanese (though there were blacks in Okinawa). Big mistake.

    Now, 20 + years later I am thankful for the Internet and blogs like this. I have learned to pay attention to what is written. I’d be foolish not to take the comments to heart. I have applied for jobs in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan because I really love Chinese music, Wang Lee Hom in particular. I knew I’d be rejected. In fact, I only applied to schools in China to shut up former white colleagues who kept saying “If you’re tired of the Middle East, go to Korea, Taiwan, China or Japan.” When I told them of my Japanese and Korean experiences and said that schools don’t want minority teachers, they either accused me of being a bigot or said, “Maybe in the past.” I wanted to show them that nothing has changed. One colleague even told me to reapply for all the jobs and make sure I was smiling in the photo. I replied, “A smiling photo wouldn’t make any difference. And for the record I am smiling in the photo I sent. They just don’t want any teacher who is not a blond, blue-eyed American.” Anyway, now I can send her the link to this blog because it really backs up what I have said.

    My entire life I have felt like a poster boy for integration. I studied at a predominantly white college-prep high school and university. I was one of the few blacks in both places who made an effort to mix, who didn’t sit at the lunch table with the other black kids. I followed the advice of my black elementary teachers; “Integrate, study hard, make us proud and show those white boys you are just as qualified to be in those schools.”

    I’d love to hop on a plane, come to China and teach. But I just don’t have the energy to battle the racism I know I will encounter. My hats to those who go and fight the fight.

    1. @Greg… yes.. China is still very racist.. however, when I talk to my younger students… Middle, High School and University age… and even those that are in their late 20’s the mindset is totally different. When I bring up racism in class they all tell me… that color doesnt matter and that it is the person that counts. That tells me that times are a changin’ … just not very quickly. I now have friends all over China and one is even a Black Professor that is teaching Black History. Sooo…. it isnt as bad as it use to be… and if you really want to come to China.. to teach… I can help you out … there are some Chinese out there.. positions in the larger cities that will look at your qualifications…. not your color.

      1. Greg

        Hi. Thanks for the reply and your offer to help me out. I think the best thing to do is come on holiday or perhaps do volunteer work and see how I’m treated. I really don’t want another year like the one I experienced in Korea: locked into a contract for a year, steeling myself before I left the house, dodging abuse as I walked the streets. I never felt safe and it really was like living in a fishbowl. At 56 I’m not as adventurous as I once was-or perhaps I’m just unwilling to endure abusive situations whether they are jobs or relationships or countries. By the way, I heard about a biracial (Chinese-African American) girl (Lou Jing) who was on Dragon TV’s Go Oriental Angel 2 years ago. What people said about her and her mother was disgusting. “Ugh. Yellow people and black people mixed together is very gross,” was one representative post. I can’t imagine growing up there and being nicknamed “little black” by her “friends”. And then there was Ding Hui, of mixed Chinese and African parentage, who was barred from representing China on the national volleyball team. I was just wondering if your husband has been the victim of abuse because he married you. I know that when I was in Korea, my teacher (a female) was subjected to filthy comments when we walked down the street together. If so, how does he handle it?

        1. @Greg… I know the story about the girl in Shanghai and I am not going to say it wasnt bad. But I think the issue they had more was with her mother because she had a baby out of wedlock. That is the bigger issue to them, that the actual fact that she was mixed. I see how shocked my students are when they hear that you can have a baby without getting married. They just cant believe it.. they even ask if it is legal. The older generation in China still has the old beliefs, its true.. but the younger generation is different. They are more open and accepting. My students dont care what color their teacher is… but some parents may care.. (old thinking) … but a lot of schools now .. are not putting up with that… they are hiring people of color all the time. I think your experience depends on where you go. In the smaller cities, yeah you will face some obvious discrimination.. pointing, staring, even laughing. But in the larger cities they pretty much ignore you and go on about their business. Shanghai, Beijing, Guanzhou etc. Michael and I get stares and sometimes pointing .. usually from the older people.. but Michael doesnt think like normal chinese. He doesnt care.. he believes he can love who he wants and doesnt pay any attention to them. So, if they have comments… or anything.. he doesnt even acknowledge their presence… we do what we want to do .. how we want to do it .. when we want to do it…. and thats that. Other people be damn…. so I guess.. I handle it differently. I think you would be surprise at the change of how it was even 10 years ago. I have heard bad things about Korea.. and many people tell me .. China is much better than there.

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  3. Zoe

    I find that in Japan no one sees the color of your skin, but most of the time whether or not you’re foreign. I had absolutely no problem in Japan when I was there and the people were really nice. I don’t think that they avoid specifically black people on the train, but foreigners in general because they think “Oh, well I’m not so confident in my English, so what if they speak to me…,” something along those lines, but to tell you the truth I didn’t really get that, so I can’t speak elaborately on that in particular. At the end of the day, every ones experience is their own, so if you want to go, go. That’s just my input.

    1. @Zoe… thank you for your comment… but it is funny you say that… because i have several japanese friends.. who tell me… skin color is just as an issue as in China…. they also have some bad experiences with the military men fighting and sleeping with japanese women… so that has brought up some prejudices… maybe they just hide it more.

  4. Indigo India

    Commenter Ann above is right about about colorism in India. Not only colorism but racism, classism and xenophobia.

    Ironically, even though many (most?) Indian people carry much prejudice in them, they are amongst the most hospitable people you could ever meet, no matter who you are or where you are from.

    They just don’t want you marrying one of their daughters or sons.

    Everyone knows their place in society and acts accordingly.

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  6. Hao

    “In their mind, Americans are white, blue-eyed, blonde haired people…. they just recently figured out there are other races… when Obama became president. So, one problem is them believing you are really american…. another problem is the Africans…. Chinese people don’t know the difference between Africans and Black Americas… so they lump us all together….. unfortunately, some of our African brothers and sisters… do not behave well in China… and often lie about who they are… claiming they are American… and since Chinese people don’t know the difference…. they get us confused and we have a bad name and blamed for many things that happen.

    It has taken me a full three years… to get the people in my city to understand, who I am; where I come from and to get some sort of respect… However, I can see the difference when the I run into Africans… they are very ghetto and loud… they dress very revealing, and really make a point of standing out…”
    So, one reason some Chinese are “racist” is that they don’t know the difference between “Africans and Black Americans”? And another reason is because some of “our Black American brothers and sisters” behave well and “Africans” don’t? It goes on and boils down to generalisation, their ignorance and a bit of yours. The bad behavior of some Africans should be taken for what it is- crime. Criminals get justice for their crimes, not racism. There are therefore, holes in your use of bad behavior of the “other”, in this case, Africans to explain racism against black people in China. Remember, there are also White Africans!

    1. @Hao…My articles are based on my opinions and my experiences… of course everything is in generalizations… i have not spoken to each and very Chinese person in China.. nor have i been to each and every town in China.. and of course there are exceptions to every situation… but … I am a Black american… so I am referring to the Black people that I am mistaken for…. I can not be mistaken for a White African.. obviously because I am not white… so that is irrelevant to my point. I am not saying that no one else expriences racism… .. Please understand.. that I am expresses the views from a Black Amercan woman in China.

  7. Racism in China….to be honest I haven’t really experienced it either, not in an obvious way at least, and I understand Chinese so even the people whispering about me in Mandarin (everyone always assumes I won’t understand) haven’t made a racia slur. They stare more out of curiosity than with malicious intent. The part that you brought up about Chinese people not knowing the differentce between Africans and Black-Americans is true, I’ve gotten so many “Are you African?”s around here….though this question has increased from the previous two years due to my new natural afro haha. I say don’t worry to all of my fellow black folk, come to China, everyone’s experience will be different, even if I had experienced racism, that doesn’t mean everyone will!

    I have never left a comment before (I was one of those silent creepers lol) so I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog and frequent posts and stories, they are so interesting and inspired me to keep a blog of my own~ =D

    1. @marsha… thanks so much for commenting…. and reading my blog…. some people say they dont experience racism… but … whether you personally experience it or not.. it is still here…. so you have to be aware. There are some people in the states that say they have never experienced rascism… but it is there too… so it is apart of life.. i guess. If you want I can put your blog in my blog roll if you want others to share in your view points.

      1. Yeah I have met people in America who experience racist things once a month, then others (like me) who have had it happen maybe once or twice. Btw, I’d be honored to have my blog on your blog list, I didn’t even think that was possible, haha. My sisters read Life Behind The Wall all of the time too, I can’t wait to see there reactions from that! 😀

  8. I’m a white teacher, but last year a few college students from South Carolina came to do a short exchange and I asked two of them to come to my classroom so they students could meet, and talk to, more foreigners. The two that came were black, a boy and a girl. One student said that the boy looked like some famous NBA basketball player. (Not Kobe, but I’m not an NBA fan so I didn’t know who.) He replied “I don’t in America, but apparently I do in China because you are the 6th person to tell me that!’

    I love that remark because it shows admiration next to total ignorance. I mean NBA is huge here and comparing him to an NBA player is a compliment. But at the same time they were just lumping “black guy” in with the other “black guys” they know because they couldn’t really tell the difference.

  9. Crispus Attucks

    In China for almost a decade. Trying to think of occasions where I suffered due to racism and coming up with nothing that wasn’t because I was a foreigner more than because of my skin color.

    For the past 5 years even the people I meet out in smaller hamlets seem to be universally aware there’s such a thing as black people that are not from Africa.

    Behave yourself, give the people in the areas you frequent a chance to see your good character, and you should have no problems.

  10. James


    I am a middle-aged, Black, American man with 14 years of English teaching experience and a brand new Master’s degree in English. Things are really bad for teachers in America now, and a Chinese-American friend suggested I try teaching in China — possibly at the University level — since I am interested in learning Mandarin. (I went to a Chinese restaurant with a Black friend once and she blew the server’s mind when she broke out in Putonghua.) Now, that’s what I want to be able to do! My question is, how easy will it be for this old dog to learn a new howl? I am told that Chinese is a very challenging language to master. Also, which city/university do you suggest I seriously consider? I’ve never been outside of America and I want to focus more on doing my job and learning the language than dealing with rank prejudice (which, sadly, is on the rise here in America since Obama became President.)

    Thanks for any advice you might share!

    Jim – Washington, D.C.

  11. ann

    Good Post.

    @ Trina:

    I agree about the economic aspect. LOL, do not tell my co-worker Africans are misbehaving. The nerve of those people pretending to be AA. Colorism is a world wide issue. I would also include India in that colorism issue. Thankfully, everyone does not have that same colorism thought pattern.

    How nice it must be to be married to an opened minded man.

    1. @Ann… You know… I am very, very lucky…. MIchael.. is soo open-minded and welcoming of everyone from all countries…. I am the kind of person that brings home strays…(people that is) i want to help everyone .. from all different countries…that I meet. I am like the Queen Mother of all the expats in my city… hehehehe… and some men would get so upset with me always trying to help people.. but he is not only supportive; he gets out there and helps too…. like he always says to me… “His body may be little … but his heart is big” I am truly blessed to have him in my life….

  12. fernando

    because chinese people can’t see many foreigners in daily time,they’ll have a photo with you,you just need to smile.and about afican people in china,chinese people think that english is from europe,so have a european to teach their children is better.

  13. I just got into a bizarre debate with a guy on this very topic. He tried to excuse the racism foreigners (particularly black people) face in China as the byproduct of ignorance, which I agree with, but he believed that let Chinese people off the hook. Personally, I don’t find lack of knowledge or experience with people of other ethnicities to be an acceptable excuse. Ignorance breeds stagnation. Anyway, nice blog. I’ll be sure to check it out often.

  14. I’m glad to see you bringing up racism in China again, it is a deeply ingrained problem here.

    Like you mentioned in your post, sometimes they can’t tell the difference between Africans and Black Americans. I think it goes even further, they don’t see a difference between one white person and another white person, or a black person and a different black person. My school in Guangxi had a no black teacher policy after a black American started flirting with the students. Unfortunately they saw this as black people are dangerous, instead of that one guy was a creep.

    In the hospital I work in it continues. African med students, who have studied entirely in China, find patients terrified of them during their internship. They say “I don’t want Black medicine, I want Western medicine,” they don’t realize that there is no such difference. As if blacks and chinese were completely different, even physiologically.

    Slowly, through your presence in your husbands hometown, you are showing Chinese people that the color of your skin doesn’t effect your quality as a human being. So to the Black student who posted this question, I hope you too will come to China to fight their stereotypes and racist practices.

    1. @Tom… Thank you so much for sharing the it from a different point of view… and I to have experienced and heard all the things you are talking about… it is true.. and I am glad we have a change to share this with people. Although, many educated Chinese people are wonderful and kind and will treat you like family… some still need a little … “learnin'”… I too hope that the student comes… we still have a wall to break down.. that is much bigger than the great wall.

  15. Libenn

    I have a question. Since it is best not to stand out, does that include making sure your hair is in a straight style as opposed to wearing it natural? Thank you for writing such an informative post!

    1. that is a little different… Your hair isnt really that important here… your actions and attitude is really what I mean by stand out…. you are never going to look like them…. but you can make efforts to be kind, learn chinese, learn some traditions. Not color your hair blue, or some crazy un-natural colors… it is not the time .. to really express yourself .. like we do in the states… piercings, a lot of tattoos, …just think america 1920s….

  16. I taught in Japan at English conversation schools for a while and like Trina I came across ads asking specifically for “white” teachers to teach their kids. Even TV commercials for English conversation schools used only whites in the teacher role.

    On the flipside, I think my Asian counterpart s faced more issues then I did too. Although I’m not white, I was the “next best thing” simply because I was non-Asian and American. My first co-worker was Chinese Canadian and there was definitely a push for the students to be taught by me instead of her. I actually overheard one mom talking to the manager. She specifically asked for me to teach her children for this reason but the manager convinced her to take my co-worker (I was glad…I already had too many students anyway). But it flipped AGAIN when a new co-worker (blond white woman) came onto the scene and there was a push for her to have more students.

  17. Also it’s worth mentioning that ALL foreigners get stared… I am white, but when I went to beijing… instead of people taking pictures of the great wall, they were taking pictures of me as if I’M the one who was thousands of years old… that akward starign and things are just normal no matter who you are. People will also be rude or extra friendly no matter what colour you are from my experience.

  18. “it is hard in China for Black people… but .. not impossible.… I”

    Xenophobia is rampant in any society, and country. People are afraid of the unknown and reject the difference as soon as they start to socialize in preschool! There is also a clear distinction among foreigners in most cities I lived in. Black people even if they are actually locals like French Caribbeans in Paris or African American in Atlanta have harder time to be recognized equal compared to the “white blond hair, blue eyes” Americans or Europeans.

    Whatever country you come from, It is hard as an expat to break the stereotypes but I agree with the recommendations here: do not stand out of the crowd and claim your difference too loudly by wearing visible attributes of your faith or ethnic background. Do it in private not only in China or Japan but in America or European countries too.

  19. I am a khaki black (meaning I am not dark but I have a deep tan of course it changes with how much sun i am exposed to) and I have lived in Taiwan for 5 years and now I have moved to this country (china) to experience life. And I have not yet experienced the racism towards blacks that others see because I am not dark enough so most people think I am white with a dark tan haha. But when they talk to me it is obvious they don’t know the difference between Africans African Americans and gangsters.

    I have been told that people are afraid to go to Chicago because there are too many black people and that blacks are bad. Which I in return say that there are just as many bad Chinese in Chicago that its not safe either… which gets some strange responses. Anyway I agree with you that there needs to me more education of the Chinese to see that not all Blacks are the Africans, who do deal in some questionable activities some times when they are in China, and the blacks who are from other countries and how they are not all thugs ghetto and gangsters.

    The biggest racism I have felt is people moving away from me on the buses and trains, but as a foreigner this is common feeling in Asia. In Japan where they have more African Americans/Black Americans they still avoid blacks at times. I am turning Asian myself and don’t really feel like returning to the US any time soon, so all of this is a mute point for me.

  20. Trina

    Hi Jo,

    Great post! I know that when you mentioned The China Expat a few weeks ago, I spend an afternoon browsing their site; incl. their job ads. It literally took my breath away to see job postings actually asking for “white” teachers or saying specifically “no blacks”. I’ve obviously encountered enough racist situations in my lifetime, incl. job-related ones, but never has that racism been so open and unapologetic.

    I can understand people having a different historical tangent with regard to diversity, and understand, too, that the Chinese peoples also have intra-group prejudices that go back – literally – centuries. It is frightening to think about how much of an economic powerhouse the country has become worldwide – esp. in the States – while still holding these kinds of beliefs.

    How do you think American films and music videos have influenced the reputation of Americans in general, and black Americans in particular, in China? Are they widely viewed by/accessible to young people?

    Thanks again for yet another great post!

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