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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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Chapter One: Conceptualizing the Other-Identity during Intercultural Encounters


The Other-identity of international migrants1 is underestimated, ignored, too often disregarded altogether in traditional intercultural adaptation research, although the sense of Otherness endures throughout these migrating individuals’ lives (S. Liu, 2007, 2015; Y. Liu & Kramer, 2019a; Shin & Jackson, 2003). This chapter contributes two sections to conceptualizing the understudied Other-identity from a critical approach and revealing how it is formulated in and through sojourners’ and immigrants’ intercultural adaptation, using international migrants’ intercultural experiences in China as examples.

Among the factors that influence identity formation, culture is one of the most critical social categories and variables that shape individuals’ identities (Ting-Toomey, 2005; Turner, 1982). As Geertz (1977) argued, the process of self-identification and meaning attached to the process were culturally bound. In the field of intercultural communication, cultural identity developed through shared ←17 | 18→meanings and values is the focus of the interpretive approach (Collier & Thomas, 1988; Hecht, Ribeau, & Alberts, 1989). In this approach, cultural identity is viewed as “a cultural construction in which core symbols, labels, and norms are expressed and communicated among a group of people”2 (Shin & Jackson, 2003, p. 219). From the interpretive perspective, cultural identity is formed during the process of cultural identification by means of the ascribed Self (e.g., who I am) and the avowed Self (one’s self-perception) (Collier, 1997). Holding to Goffman’s idea of performing the culture, interpretive intercultural communication scholars reason that enacted communicative behaviors and their performed meanings should be used to reflect about cultural identity...

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