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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 Three: Exoticized Otherness Rising from Objectification, Homogenization, and Alienation


China did not reopen its borders to the West until the late 1970s and did not remove social boundaries between non-Chinese residents and Chinese citizens within the residential, working, and leisure sectors until the 1990s (Conceison, 2004; Farrer, 2014; Kochhar, 2011). Although the restrictions on waiguoren have gradually dissolved with China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, these international migrants’ foreign presence is still scarce on the Chinese mainland, considering their tiny fraction (593, 832 in 2010) out of China’s national population (1,339,724,852 of the same year) in this region (National Bureau of Statistics of P.R.C., 2011). Given the scarcity of international migrants on the Chinese mainland, waiguoren, especially those without salient (Han) Chinese physical appearance, are more susceptible to and therefore distinguished as the exotic Other in the Chinese gaze. This chapter elaborates three ways in which the interviewed Americans felt singled out as the exotic Other and delineates how they strategically coped with the exoticized Otherness in Chinese society at the intersection of various factors.

Race and ethnicity are two essential social categorizing markers based on notable physical characteristics (Ahnallen, Suyemoto, & Carter, 2006; S. Liu, 2015; Y. Liu & Kramer, 2019a; Peoples & Bailey, 2011; Shin & Jackson, 2003). During transnational migration, international migrants with noticeable bodily distinctiveness find themselves easily captured by the Chinese gaze, which is reciprocally experienced by these waiguoren as a means of formulating their Otherness via objectification in Chinese society (P. Lan, 2011; S. Lan,...

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