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Permanent Outsiders in China

American Migrants’ Otherness in the Chinese Gaze


Yang Liu

This book situates migrating individuals’ sense of Otherness in receiving countries front and center and systematically illustrates the configuration of Western migrants’ Other-identity during their reverse migration from the West to China, which has become a new destination of international migration due to its rise to prominence in the global labor market. Consequently, international migrants from Western countries, especially those with skills desired in China, have become this country’s main target in the global race for talent. In this context, this book attends to American migrants on the Chinese mainland, who are perceived as the prototypical waiguoren in this region, as an illuminating case, and illustrates the configuration of their Other-identity, rising from their intercultural adaptation as the privileged but marginalized Other in an asymmetric power structure. This book also attempts to reveal the condition and process of Chinese Othering of American migrants that exists but is far less openly discussed in China.

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Introduction: The Foreign Other in China—The Case of American Migrants



Westerners have been perceived as the very different Other in China, owing to Chinese Othering practices employed by the Chinese government, intelligentsia, and popular culture to define modern Chinese identity, defend China’s unity and political legitimacy, and gain power and authority in Sino-Western relations (Brady, 2003; Conceison, 2004; Gries, 2004). As prototypical foreigners in the Chinese gaze, Americans have been placed at the center of China’s construction of the foreign Other in the post-Cold War era (Gries, 2004; Stanley, 2013). Conceison (2004) contributed a full volume to the contemporary spoken drama’s representations of Americans between 1987 and 2002 on the Chinese mainland. In this book, Conceison (2004) delineated how the construction of Americans as China’s significant Other functioned as racial and cultural stereotypes, political strategy, and artistic innovation in this country. To facilitate readers’ understanding of her research context, Conceison (2004) recalled her experience of being a foreign Other on the Chinese mainland as the prologue to her subsequent analyses of the Chinese onstage construction of Americans in this region. Such recall leaves a worthwhile question open to discuss: how do Chinese Othering practices ascribe a sense of Otherness to American migrants during their everyday intercultural experiences in China?

Since the establishment of Sino-American diplomatic relations in 1979, a growing number of Americans have come to the Chinese mainland and increasingly ←1 | 2→ranked as the largest group of Western migrants in this region1 (National Bureau of Statistics of P.R.C., 2011). Among these Americans, those initially...

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