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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 Four: Stereotyped Otherness Formulated by Fantasization, Underestimation, and Stigmatization


As illustrated in Chapter Three, American migrants’ race, ethnicity, and nationality were captured in the Chinese gaze as significant intergroup differentiating markers that distinguished them as the exotic Other in China. Such intergroup differentiation ignored these participants’ individualized distinctiveness and further exposed them to many Chinese locals’ stereotype-laden fantasization, underestimation, and stigmatization of waiguoren and Americans. During intercultural encounters, stereotypes are inevitable because interlocutors from different cultures often lack firsthand personal interactions with members from out-groups (Ion & Cojocaru, 2015; Lebedko, 2014). Therefore, local people navigate initial interactions with international migrants, guided by their one-dimensional and incomplete expectations of the Other. Consequently, international migrants encounter positive and negative stereotypes held by local people, depending on their status and competitiveness created with their influx into the destination society (Fiske, 2018; Fiske, Cuddy, & Glick, 2002; Ion & Cojocaru, 2015; Lee & Fiske, 2006). As a result of stereotyping, international migrants’ sense of difference is made prominent, contributing to the formulation of their Otherness in their receiving countries (Bhatia, 2007; S. Liu, 2007; Y. Liu & Self, 2020; Stanciu & Vauclair, 2018). In this chapter, I will provide accounts on the interviewed participants’ perception of and coping with their Other-identity ascribed by the prevalent stereotyping of waiguoren and Americans in China.

As set out in previous chapters, the conflation of whiteness, foreignness, and Westernness on the Chinese mainland can be traced back to the 1980s and the 1990s when the majority of waiguoren living in this region were white-skinned Westerners...

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