Tales of ex­pat man­u­fac­tured in China

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ARTS & LIFE -

IN 2007, a year be­fore the Bei­jing Olympics, a young Cana­dian jour­nal­ist, Mitch Moxley, ac­cepted a job with China Daily and moved to Bei­jing. His China ad­ven­tures lasted six years and re­sulted in this comic mem­oir.

If you are ex­pect­ing in­sights into the life of the Chi­nese you will be dis­ap­pointed in Apolo­gies to My Cen­sor, but it does pro­vide, as ad­ver­tised, hon­est, amus­ing ac­counts of cop­ing with cen­sor­ship at China Daily and liv­ing the high life as an ex­pat in Bei­jing.

Moxley worked for China’s fore­most English-lan­guage pro­pa­ganda press for a year. He moved on to the CBC dur­ing the Olympics and then to record­ing English lessons for a princely sum of $50 an hour.

He ad­mits early on that he re­ally had no in­ter­est in work­ing for China Daily. He knew the pa­per’s rep­u­ta­tion as the govern­ment pro­pa­ganda rag be­fore he ar­rived. He sim­ply used his edit­ing and re­port­ing work there as a meal ticket. His real in­ter­ests were the Olympics, free­lanc­ing and hav­ing a boozy good time.

His free­lanc­ing be­gan with se­ri­ous top­ics such as the plight of African traders in China and sex-traf­fick­ing from Mon­go­lia. (Some­one had ad­vised him that sex sells but they were wrong.) He soon re­al­ized he couldn’t make a liv­ing free­lanc­ing in­ves­tiga­tive pieces and needed other part-time jobs.

It was one of th­ese jobs that fi­nally gave him a break­through into the free­lance mar­ket. Moxley and five other for­eign­ers were hired by a Cal­i­for­ni­abased com­pany that was open­ing a branch in China.

For $1,000 a week they donned suits and posed as qual­ity-con­trol ex­perts at a new fac­tory site. In fact, all they did was at­tend a rib­bon-cut­ting cer­e­mony and sit in bleak of­fices do­ing noth­ing.

As Moxley’s lan­guage tu­tor ex­plained, “Hav­ing for­eign­ers in nice suits give the com­pa­nies face,” and face or im­age is key to in­ter­ac­tions in China.

The ar­ti­cle Moxley wrote about his ex­pe­ri­ence was picked up by The At­lantic in the U.S. and pub­lished un­der the provoca­tive ti­tle “Rent a White Guy.” It got him so much at­ten­tion that he re­vised his free­lance agenda and sought out bizarre per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences he could spin into print.

He went on a dat­ing show, made a mu­sic video, got an agent and played bit parts in films. Along the way he met “Daniel from Win­nipeg” who was also act­ing as a side gig.

Moxley had dis­cov­ered that what the read­ing pub­lic wants is a per­sonal nar­ra­tive. For this book he has in­te­grated ac­counts of his free­lance ad­ven­tures with his per­sonal life as an ex­pat in Bei­jing.

If you have ever been an ex­pat, you will rec­og­nize the highs and lows here: the se­duc­tive nov­elty of be­ing treated as some­one spe­cial in an ex­otic place, of meet­ing new peo­ple all the time, of liv­ing like the rich, which you could never do at home.

Then there’s the down­side: the lone­li­ness, the love af­fairs go­ing nowhere be­cause ev­ery­one will go home even­tu­ally, the ques­tions of when to leave and what to do next.

Some­times Moxley’s angst about whether to leave or stay be­comes rep­e­ti­tious, but at least he’s not a com­plainer. He’s fully aware that de­spite air pol­lu­tion, blocked drains, ex­ces­sive heat in sum­mer and cold in win­ter, his life in Bei­jing is easy com­pared to the lives of most peo­ple around him.

In fact, with pub quizzes, daily trips to the gym, and af­ter­noons writ­ing at Star­bucks, Moxley could have been liv­ing in any mod­ern metropolis.

Some read­ers may wish he’d been a lit­tle more cu­ri­ous about the lives of the aver­age per­son, but Moxley may be sav­ing those ob­ser­va­tions for his next book.


Win­nipeg beer en­thu­si­ast Dave Craig with some of his sudsy mem­o­ra­bilia.

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