Feud­ing for­eign­ers

Do Shang­hai ex­pats feel su­pe­rior to those in other Chi­nese cities?

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Wang Han

"Re­gional dis­crim­i­na­tion is so se­vere in China that even one of my for­eign friends in Shang­hai told me that he tends to look down upon Bei­jing’s for­eign­ers.” This WeChat post re­cently went vi­ral, rais­ing heated dis­cus­sions about whether it is true or not that Shang­hai expa feel su­pe­rior to those in Bei­jing and othe Chi­nese cities. Re­gion­al­ism has al­ways ex­isted in China, with res­i­dents from dif­fer­ent prov­inces tend­ing to form stereo­types of their coun­ter­parts in other ar­eas. For in­stance Shang­hainese are gen­er­ally per­ceived as ar­ro­gant and self-im­por­tant whereas Bei­jingers are re­garded as schol­arly and well-ed­u­cated.

But does provin­cial­ism also ex­ist among China’s ex­pat com­mu­nity? Do ex­pats in, say, Shang­hai have a sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity sim­ply be­cause of the city they live in?

The Global Times re­cently in­ter­viewed a num­ber of for­eign­ers liv­ing in Shang­hai for at least sev­eral months to glean some in­sight into this age-old de­bate.

Span­ish Car­lota Vic­to­ria (pic­tured sec­ond from top right) said that she wanted to live in a city with only “a bit of Chi­nese” cul­ture “but not so much,” which is why she chose Shang­hai.

She said that liv­ing in the city doesn’t make her feel any su­pe­ri­or­ity over ex­pats else­where, though she ad­mit­ted that she feels bet­ter liv­ing in Shang­hai than in Bei­jing due to Shang­hai’s cleaner air qual­ity.

Amer­i­can Matt Wil­liam (sec­ond from top left), who moved to Shang­hai about five months ago, ex­plained that the city has more job op­por­tu­ni­ties and bet­ter pay for English teach­ers as op­posed to smaller Chi­nese cities.

“Ev­ery­body has dif­fer­ent rea­sons for where they want to live and what they want to do. Lots of for­eign­ers want to be sur­rounded by tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, not be­ing in big cities, and I ad­mire that,” Wil­liam said.

Wil­liam added that he has never heard any of his friends in Shang­hai look down upon ex­pats in Bei­jing or other cities. “I think most peo­ple tend to re­spect oth­ers’ de­ci­sions of where they want to live and what they want to do,” he said.

An­other in­ter­vie­wee, Peter Smith (pseu­do­nym, top right), said he has been liv­ing in Shang­hai

for around a year af­ter his com­pany de­cided to base him here. Pre­vi­ously he lived in Bei­jing. “'I feel health­ier liv­ing in Shang­hai than in Bei­jing. The air qual­ity is bet­ter,” Smith said. When asked whether rel gional dis­crim­i­na­tion ex­ists in Shang­hai’s ex­pat com­mu­nity, he stresed that peo­ple are all equal. “Be­ing a lo­cal or ex­pat doesn’t mat­ter. We are all hu­man be­ings. It doesn’t mat­ter where you are from,” he said. “It’s not a ques­tion of be­ing an ex­pat or be­ing a lo­cal, it’s a ques­tion of char­ac­ter; it’s a ques­tion of ed­u­ca­tion, not school ed­u­ca­tion but what your par­ents taught you,” Smith said, adding that his par­ents taught him to re­spect peo­ple from all cul­tures and back­grounds.

Some dis­ad­van­tages

She point­edRus­sian­with some­been in (pseu­do­nym,cities like Shang­hai Shang­hai dis­ad­van­tages.na­tion­alout top that left,for also Sasha liv­ing three mid­dle) comes Greenin years.big has “Nowa­days, more for­eign­er­shai, this more with here com­pe­ti­tion­mor­ein Shanghere­and be­tween com­par­isonus to to finda few bet­ter years jobs. ago, In now it’s more dif­fi­cult for ex­pats to live here and find their own place un­der the sun,” Green said. Bram (top mid­dle) from the Nether­lands has been in Shangr hai four and a half years. He first came to China to study Pu­tua, onghu in Bei­jing, but felt that Shang­hai ap­pealed to him more. “But I don’t have the feel­ing at all that ex­pats in Shang­hai are su­pe­rior to ex­pats in other cities,” he said, adding that ex­pats who choose Bei­jing tend to re­ally go for a “China ex­pe­ri­ence” rather than the in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of Shang­hai.

“If you come to China to ex­pand your per­spec­tives on Chi­nese cul­ture, you should def­i­nitely move to Bei­jing, not Shang­hai,” he said.

Sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments were echoed by Cana­dian na­tional John Arm­strong, who has been liv­ing and work­ing in Shang­hai for over a decade.

“Bei­jing at­tracts a dif­fer­ent sort of for­eign­ers usu­ally. Ex­pats in Bei­jing tend to be aca­demic or diplo­matic and they prob­a­bly speak bet­ter Pu­tonghua, know more his­tory and pol­i­tics and in­te­grate bet­ter with Chi­nese cul­ture,” John Arm­strong pointed out.

Amer­i­can ex­pat Tommy, who lived for sev­eral years in both Bei­jing and Shang­hai, agrees that the cities’ re­spec­tive in­dus­tries and his­to­ries are what draw their for­eign pop­u­lous.

“The ex­pats I knew in Bei­jing were par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in Chi­nese pol­i­tics and cul­ture or the arts and mu­sic scene, whereas from what I’ve seen in Shang­hai there is more in­volve­ment in fi­nance or en­trepreneuri­al­ism.”

But Arm­strong stip­u­lated that such de­scrip­tions could be a com­plete gen­er­al­iza­tion.

“I’m sure there are plenty of busi­ness peo­ple in Bei­jing and aca­demics in Shang­hai. Just my im­pres­sion that those who em­brace Bei­jing are in for the long haul,” Arm­strong said.

The un­touch­able caste

An­other long-term ex­pat in Shang­hai, Cana­dian Timothy Nash, said he un­der­stands why some for­eign­ers in Shang­hai tend to have a sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity.

“Well I think it’s kind of ob­vi­ous, be­cause the cost of liv­ing in Shang­hai is higher than most other cities in China,” he said.

Though most in­ter­vie­wees said they don’t think there is any re­gion-based dis­crim­i­na­tion among Shang­hai’s ex­pat com­mu­nity, they ad­mit­ted that ca­reer­based di­vi­sions among for­eign­ers still ex­ist here.

French artist Dezio has been liv­ing and work­ing in Shang­hai since 2007. He said that he has seen a sep­a­ra­tion be­tween those ex­pats with low-in­come jobs, such as teach­ers, and those with higher qual­i­fied ones, in­clud­ing bankers.

Like­wise, Arm­strong said, “it’s a rough di­vi­sion but I’d say that the high­est paid ex­pat in Shang­hai would come from the busi­ness sec­tor.”

Tommy con­curred, ex­plain­ing that Shang­hai’s night life and bar scene are em­blem­atic of the city’s for­eign di­vide.

“You have all the ex­pats on a bud­get chug­ging beer at (the for­mer) Yongkang Road and all the suit-wear­ing types sip­ping cock­tails on the Bund. There is never any cross­over. The two classes just don’t mix.”

As an English teacher in Shang­hai, Wil­liam ad­mit­ted that some for­eign­ers here tend to scoff at his oc­cu­pa­tion.

“I teach English, so some­times I feel that peo­ple with ‘real jobs’ look down on us be­cause they think it’s too easy,” Wil­liam said. “It’s just some­thing you have to deal with.”

Green said that be­ing an English teacher should not be per­ceived as be­neath other jobs.

“I can say for a fact that teach­ers’ salaries in Shang­hai are much higher than, for ex­am­ple, in­ter­preters or trans­la­tors,” she said.

How­ever, Arm­strong pointed out that, from his ex­pe­ri­ence, the num­ber one cleav­age in the ex­pat com­mu­nity in China is not re­gion-based.

“It is English teacher ver­sus ev­ery­one else,” he said. “Shang­hai unites fairly or un­fairly in its dis­dain for English teach­ers. They are the un­touch­able caste.”

Photo: CFP

A WeChat post re­cently goes vi­ral, rais­ing heated dis­cus­sions about whether it is true or not that Shang­hai ex­pats feel su­pe­rior to those in Bei­jing and other Chi­nese cities.

Pho­tos: Wang Han/GT and CFP

Re­gion­al­ism has al­ways ex­isted.

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