This week I am trying something a little different. I’m talking about things that I have experienced and witnessed as a white girl in China. Being white, I am absolutely part of a privileged minority, and it’s not entirely something I’m used to. Sexism is also pretty rife here as well, and so I am going to discuss what I have experienced, in my own limited view. I cannot say that this is the same in all of China, or that my experiences are the same for all women or white people in China, but it is anecdotally what I have come across. I may end up using generalisations, but if someone has had a different time of it, that’s fair and valid and just not what I’ve come across. Also, because I don’t have many pictures for this, I’m going to intersperse the article with pictures of flowers, and wildlife that I saw at the weekend when Lucy and I visited a nearby park.
I live in a part of China that really doesn’t have that many white people in it, despite its proximity to Hong Kong. This makes seeing other white people (other than my English teacher colleagues) a rarity. Whenever I see a white person, a literally say it to myself, and probably to whoever is with me. It’s exciting for me to see a Western (or at least Western appearing) compatriot. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I arrive back in the UK for my summer holidays (less than a month!) but I may have an excitement attack and go a little giddy. I doubt it’ll last but who knows.
Because of our scarcity, we sometimes get treated a little bit like celebrities. We have people staring at us constantly, approaching us, wanting to have pictures with us, due to the colour of our skin. Lucy told me that when she went to Window of the World with Charlie, so many people wanted a picture that they formed a queue. When Victoria, Lucy and I went to Shenzhen International Garden and Flower Expo Park, we had a couple of people ask for pictures, including an old man who followed us for a good half an hour until we managed to shake him by ducking into a little side garden while he wasn’t looking. Sometimes they don’t want a picture with you, they just take a picture of you. And they don’t even try to hide it or do it sneakily. We’ve each of us caught a number of people doing it.
Every Saturday, when I’m not gallivanting, I go to DnD in Shenzhen. The journey on the Metro normally lasts me around two hours and it’s a perfect time for me to do my Chinese lessons on Duolingo and HelloChinese. Whenever someone who speaks a little English (not many people do) sees me doing this, they come up and speak to me, although I don’t always have to be learning Chinese to be approached. I think it just gratifies them to see that I’m at least attempting to learn their language, even if I am clearly not very good at it – and I am really not very good at it. People come up to me, tap me on the shoulder or whatever and ask me in their (better than my Chinese) best English where I’m from, how long I’ve been in China, why I’m here and so on. I love these interactions, because they’re always positive. I like making friends on the Metro, and I like it when people want to come and talk to me. I have made a friend at the Care home that I pass by every day on my way to work. One of the residents and I have a very cordial relationship of waving at each other and occasionally saying “nihao” to one another. I doubt that would have happened if I weren’t white. And speaking of waving, at the weekend when Lucy and I went to the park, the security guards at a mysterious place we passed waved at us.
I don’t know this for certain, because I have been clubbing a grand total of once, but according to Vicky, all white people and especially white girls get a lot of attention at clubs. The one time that I went, I did have an admirer within approximately 0.2s of hitting the dance floor and I wasn’t the only one. I was told before I came out to China that the Chinese men want a white girlfriend, and when we arrived, Charlie was told that all the Chinese girls want a white boyfriend, so I would not be surprised that white girls do get attention at clubs, if only for the men to get bragging rights on scoring a white girl, misogynistic as that could be seen.
Speaking of misogyny, sexism in general is pretty rife as far as I can see, although sometimes it works out in the women’s favour. Every train on the Metro has a women’s priority carriage, where men can board but it’s what it says on the tin, priority for women. Large car parks for malls have women first parking areas, that are painted pink, and very well-lit and are closer to the entrance to the mall, so that the women don’t have to walk as far in the darker and statistically dangerous lots. After 1am in clubs, women get free drinks (although I’m no totally sure this is a beneficial thing if I’m being honest) while men still have to pay for theirs.
The other side of this sexism is more perfidious and one that hasn’t completely disappeared in Western countries either. In my KC class, whenever it’s someone’s birthday, they all bring in gifts for the rest of the kids, which is very sweet, and the girls all get pink toys or girl-centric toys (little make-up bags) while the boys get blue toys and Rubik’s cubes. When extra-curricular activities are advertised, the girls get taken into one room for the ballet demonstration while the boys go into another for a Kung-Fu display. Girls do girl things and boys do boy things, and while there is a little bit of crossover (3 girls of around 25 do Kung-Fu with the boys) they mostly have to stay to their lanes. And when I tried to put some of my KA boys’ hair into top knots, they all protested it. Only Max finally consented, and then Sunny, his teacher, told me she thought he was a girl. He liked it though and I thought it looked awesome. He went home with his hair up and I will never see that hair bobble again. I’m not too fussed though if it helped to overcome sexist stereotypes.
The other teachers, and especially the head of the school still have a sexism problem, too. Despite the fact that Lucy and I are the teachers for the graduating KA class this semester, the boys are the ones who read their names as each child comes on stage to pick up their little Kindergarten diploma and got the picture with the staff, while we got to organise the kids backstage and get little to no recognition for our efforts this term in teaching the children English. The boys every week record the English sentences, rather than all of us taking turns. And so on. I’m mostly resigned to it now, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still rankle.
So there we have it. My view on my position in China as a white woman. It’s a part of my life and the culture here and there’s not a lot I can do about it. So have another picture of a turtle instead.